As the New Mexico State Legislature enters its third week, the battles rage on about how to resolve the state’s yawning budget gap.
Slash services even more, say the cut-only crowd. Raise revenues by closing tax loopholes for out of state corporations and make the wealthy pay their fair share, say those advocating a balanced approach.
Last week I caught a glimpse of what might happen in New Mexico if those who favor drastic cuts get their way.
This Feb. 5. Denver Post story, “Colorado Springs Cuts Into Services Considered Basic By Many,” details the catastrophic changes taking place there after voters rejected a tripling of property taxes that would have raised $27.6 million for the city’s $212 million general fund budget.
According to the Post story, many residents said they didn’t trust city government to wisely spend a general tax increase and didn’t believe the current cuts are the only way to balance a budget.
From the story, here’s a litany of what’s going to happen in Colorado Springs as a result, starting today:
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.
Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.
Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won’t pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.
“I guess we’re going to find out what the tolerance level is for people,” said businessman Chuck Fowler, who is helping lead a private task force brainstorming for city budget fixes. “It’s a new day.”
Does that sound like a nightmare to you? It does to me. Public safety, roads and transportation, healthcare, recreation…all the things governments provide – things that Tea Partiers, I guess, fail to acknowledge – just gone out the window. Let the private sector take care of it, I guess.
State budget responsibilities are different than municipal ones, but the impact of such drastic cuts on state-provided public safety, education and healthcare would be equally catastrophic.
No one knows yet what’s going to happen at our state legislature, but the message so far isn’t pretty. On Friday, HB 270 (also called the PIT add-back bill) sponsored by Rep. Mimi Stewart died by one vote Friday on the House floor. The measure would have stopped New Mexicans taxpayers who itemize from being able to deduct their state and local taxes on both federal and state forms. The bill could have generated $65 million annually for the state.
A number of other tax bills that could generate millions of dollars for the state await a full hearing, including HB 62/SB 90, a combined reporting bill sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth and Rep. Ed Begaye that would require out-of-state corporations to pay taxes on income made in New Mexico, which is still making its way through House committees; and HB9, a measure sponsored by Rep. Ed Sandoval that would impose a surtax on New Mexico’s highest earners, which just passed on the House floor.
What happens to those bills in the ever-tightening debate at the session will dictate whether New Mexicans will keep vital services intact – or soon start suffering Colorado Springs-type cuts.