By Claus Whiteacre
In the early hours of Wednesday morning with the legislative session heading into its final three days, the Senate passed its amended version of the General Appropriation Act of 2011, AKA House Bill 2. The state budget.
Uncharacteristically, introduction of the bill, amendments, and final vote took less then 30 minutes. The final vote was 27-14.
Going into this session, the legislature faced the task the task of closing a looming budget gap of about $250 million, due in part to a loss of federal stimulus funds. From the outset, the leadership opted for an approach that concentrated solely on the spending side — taking the revenue part of the equation off the table completely.
Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), Finance Committee Chair, proudly announced that the resulting legislation produced a balanced budget without layoffs, furloughs, or across-the-board cuts. Under the proposal, overall state spending will decrease by about 2.7 percent.
Not all senators agreed on this one-sided attempt to balance the budget – especially in the wake of almost a billion dollars in expenditure cuts already on the books. Three Democrats offered amendments. While acknowledging the gargantuan task of coming up with a balanced budget in tough economic times, they maintained that the discussion had neglected a more balanced approach.