Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Office said Friday the governor may veto some spending cuts approved during the special session after she said legislators shouldn’t have reduced public school funding as much as they did.
Lujan Grisham said Thursday she disagreed with some of the cuts to education passed by lawmakers, noting New Mexico has not met its “financial obligation to students in the classroom.”
“I would have kept more money in some of the line items for education,” Lujan Grisham said during a news briefing. “I think that you don’t go backwards in investing for education.”
The revised state budget passed by legislators last week contains more than $600 million in cuts to the spending plan originally approved in February. Those reductions, as well as a plan to spend cash reserves and federal funding, will be used to plug a $2 billion shortfall for next fiscal year caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the oil price crash.
The governor’s comments came after New Mexico was again ranked last in the nation in “overall child well-being” in an annual report released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which assesses how kids in each state are faring in education, health care and poverty. The state has been ranked 50th in the report in four of the past eight years.
The governor still needs to sign the amended budget before it becomes law. She must put pen to paper by Tuesday for the bill to go into effect before the next budget period starts Wednesday.
The Governor’s Office said Friday that Lujan Grisham might strike some parts of the document before signing it.
“The governor may veto certain lines of the budget,” spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said. “She and staff are still thoroughly evaluating the bill and the fiscal implications.”
The state House’s budget chief said Friday she believes the governor might indeed cross out some of the reductions approved by the Legislature, although she said it is unclear how that would work legally.
“She may line item some of the cuts,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “We’ll see what she does with it.”
Under state law, governors can perform line-item vetoes on the budget, meaning they can strike individual parts of appropriations bills.
Yet Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said she wasn’t sure whether the governor could line-item veto the new cuts because it would affect overall spending levels and could make the state “overbudgeted.”
“We have a budget framework. We can’t spend more than what our framework allows for revenue,” she said. “If all of a sudden she’s sanding off those cuts, ‘Are we out of balance?’ is my question.”
Asked about this, Sackett at the Governor’s Office said Lujan Grisham “would not take any action that would ‘overbudget’ the state.”
She also suggested the state would use more of its cash reserves to pay for the additional items and reserves “would be marginally reduced.”
Reserves are already set to drop from 25 percent to 12 percent of overall spending levels, according to the revised budget approved by lawmakers.
It might be tricky to isolate certain cuts for vetoing because some of them are attached to larger line items in House Bill 1, the revised budget legislation passed during the special session.
“The way they wrote the bill, they lumped together a bunch of programs,” said Charles Goodmacher, head of government affairs at the Transform Education New Mexico Coalition. “I don’t know how they could cut one specific thing out of it, rather than all.”
For instance, the legislation calls for reducing previously approved public school spending by 1 percent, or around $33 million.
Within that reduction is a $2 million cut to Indigenous, multicultural special education and a $1.7 million reduction to teacher recruitment and mentorship. Those cuts can’t be vetoed unless the governor strikes all $33 million, Goodmacher said.
Other cuts stand alone in the bill, including $4.5 million less for instructional materials, a $1 million cut to teacher residencies and a $1 million reduction to efforts to place teachers in “hard-to-staff schools.”
On Friday, Goodmacher was writing a memo to Lujan Grisham’s office urging her to rid the bill of these cuts and others. He said more funds will be needed to pay for counselors and instructional materials to help children better adapt to the challenges of the pandemic.
“Every kid is going to be affected some way or another,” he said. “There are going to be all sorts of behavioral issues.”
But Lundstrom defended the budgetary work of the Legislature, saying the dire economic circumstances and huge drop in state revenue made the cuts necessary.
“There’s an incredible issue around our revenue opportunities,” she said. “Unless there’s a big change in the economy, we’re going to have some real issues later.”