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“I believe we’re in a once-in-a-statehood moment,” state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Doña Ana, told the Bulletin. Small is vice chair of the New Mexico House of Representatives Appropriations and Finance Committee (HAFC) and a member of the state Legislative Finance Committee (LFC).
Small said the LFC projected in August that the state budget could reach $10 billion when the legislature meets next January for a 60-day session. The current state budget is about $8.5 billion.
“We’re seeing the most revenue we’ve ever seen,” said Small, a former Las Cruces city councilor who was first elected to the New Mexico House in 2016 and re-elected in 2018 and 2020. In 2022, he faces Republican Kimberly Skaggs in the House District 36 race.
Record budget growth will allow the state “to continue to invest in New Mexico across so many areas,” Small said. During this year’s legislative session, legislators removed most state taxes on Social Security, lowered gross receipts taxes and increased basic educator pay, he said. Most state residents also received a $500 stimulus check from the state last summer.
The state is continuing to expand health care access, including behavioral health, and make it more affordable, Small said, and is investing more in infrastructure and renewable energy development. New Mexico is also making “historic investments” in water and water shed restoration, Small said, including finding ways to access previously unusable sources of water, like New Mexico State University brackish-water research and reclaiming billions of gallons of water used in oil and gas production.
"New Mexico's historic budget surplus will continue to allow us to make strategic investments in needed areas like infrastructure, affordable housing, and behavioral health while also creating new opportunities to help New Mexicans and grow our economy,” said state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Doña Ana, a member of the state Senate Finance Committee and the LFC. “This could include investing in emerging areas like expanding outdoor recreation and the creative economy, and clean energy and climate resiliency. Given the historic volatility of oil and gas prices and its corresponding fluctuation on state revenues, it’s important that any funding commitments made are sustainable in the future," Steinborn said.
“When it comes to excess revenue, we should treat it as such and return to the taxpayer what is rightfully theirs,” said state Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Sierra, Luna, Hidalgo, Doña Ana. “In 2022, Republicans led the effort to send rebate checks to the citizens of New Mexico and we should do the same next year. We also have a historic opportunity to fix our aging infrastructure, particularly in southern New Mexico. This will allow us to capitalize on future opportunities for growth and put us in a better position to diversify our local economies,” Diamond said.
"This is a unique opportunity to put vital funds back into our communities,” said state Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Otero, Eddy, Doña Ana. “Lasting change can only be achieved when our infrastructure scales with our economy. Right now, we have shovel-ready projects across southern New Mexico in desperate need of investment. I intend to push hard to make sure our local governments are ready to jump on this growth opportunity when it arises."
“The legislature is setting its budget priorities for 2023 coming legislative session, which begins Jan. 17, said state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, San Juan, who is chair of HFAC and LFC.
Those priorities will include “backfilling anything we’ve had to cut in the past,” Lundstrom said, along with public education, public safety and infrastructure issues, including road improvements, water and wastewater and telecommunications – “the kind of thing that has immediate impact on a community.”
As chair of HAFC and LFC, Lundstrom said she has appointed subcommittees to look at other initiatives that will be part of the LFC’s state budget proposal for 2023, including health, capital outlay, higher education and “anything regarding wildfire issues,” she said.
Lundstrom said the final budget could again include a direct payment to state residents, “putting some dollars in the pockets of New Mexicans.”
Lundstrom said it is important that HAFC and LFC include legislators who “come from all over the state.” Small, she said, “provides a very unique perspective to make sure you guys (southern New Mexico) are represented.”
"New Mexico's historic budget surplus will continue to allow us to make strategic investments in needed areas like infrastructure, affordable housing, and behavioral health while also creating new opportunities to help New Mexicans and grow our economy,” said state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Doña Ana, who is also a member of the state Senate Finance Committee and the LFC. “This could include investing in emerging areas like expanding outdoor recreation and the creative economy, and clean energy and climate resiliency. Given the historic volatility of oil and gas prices and its corresponding fluctuation on state revenues, it’s important that any funding commitments made are sustainable in the future."
The budget increase is because New Mexico is “seeing strength across many different sectors of the economy,” Small said.
The state’s oil and gas production has increased dramatically since the onset of COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“New Mexico production has increased at a critical time for the world,” Small said.
With legislators of both parties working collaboratively, the legislature can use the budget surplus “to go beyond rebuilding” behavioral health services in New Mexico to make them the strongest in the Southwest, Small said, ensure that local and state law enforcement officers are well paid, well trained and well equipped; and invest more in higher education across the state.
“We can afford to do this in ways we never have before,” Small said.
A proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allocate state Permanent Fund revenue to early childhood education is “the right investment,” Small said, and could help make New Mexico “the best state in the Southwest to start and raise a family. Investing in kids is the right thing to do,” he said.
Spending the state’s money wisely and making sure its budget is secure into the foreseeable future is an “incredible responsibility” the legislature must live up to, Small said.
“Leadership is so key,” he said. Having a “voice for southern New Mexico” on the House Appropriations Committee who is directly involved in crafting the state budget is critical “at a time when we have the most resources in our history,” he said.