The city of Santa Fe will be holding its hand out when state lawmakers convene for a special session later this week.
It won’t be for a handshake but to shake money loose from the state government.
Mayor Alan Webber said Monday the city will ask the Legislature to support a handful of measures that would provide Santa Fe and other cities across the state relief amid a pandemic that has catapulted municipalities into a “financial tsunami.”
“We’re looking for help from the state because, frankly, we haven’t gotten any help from the federal government,” Webber said during his weekly virtual news conference. “We have to look for help where we can get it, and right now the state is our friend.”
Webber said the city, which is facing an unprecedented $100 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1, has prepared a “short list” of wants that include expedited payments from the internet sales tax.
“The payments were scheduled to begin a year from now,” he said. “We are asking for those payments to start right away.”
A significant number of people made purchases over the internet instead of at local stores after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the closure of nonessential businesses in New Mexico, the mayor said.
“If we could get a piece of that internet sales tax now, it would make up for the money that was lost because we were unable to get gross receipts tax,” he said.
The city also wants the state to allow it to refinance some of its debt through the New Mexico Finance Authority at a lower interest rate.
“That would by its very nature free up cash that we could use to provide services, continue to pay salaries, keep people operating in their jobs in the city of Santa Fe,” Webber said.
The third idea, Webber said, involves freeing up state funds specifically dedicated for police and fire services.
“We think the state could potentially make some of that money available to cities so that we could offset the money that we’re putting into the budget for those two essential city services and reapply it to other parts of the budget,” he said. “It’s an offset rather than a pure grant to one particular area.”
The fourth idea, however, is direct funding from money the state has received from the federal coronavirus relief act.
“We would put it to work in a number of the areas where our budget has been burdened by responding to COVID-19,” Webber said. “By using federal money for COVID-19 spending, we free up dollars to put into other basic essential city services.”
The last proposal, which Webber called the “most important one and the one that promises a great deal of help,” is the creation of municipal emergency loan program with money from the state’s Severance Tax Permanent Fund.
“Cities could avail themselves of a long-term, low-interest loan to cover our revenue shortfall,” he said.
Asked whether he had spoken directly with the governor, Webber said Lujan Grisham called him before he had a chance to reach out to her.
“She said, ‘We know how hard things are, not just in Santa Fe but in cities around the state, and I want to help,’ “ Webber said, adding he then delved into the details of the city’s wish list with the governor’s chief of staff.
“The message I’ve gotten from the governor and her team is that they’re completely aware of just what a severe circumstance cities around the state are dealing with, and they would like to be helpful as much as they can at the same time as they take care of their own financial needs at the state level,” he said.
The state government is facing a revenue shortfall of around $2 billion for fiscal year 2021.