Night of the Living Budget: Senate Passes HB2

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.

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Science or Fiction – It’s All the Same to Harrison Schmitt

Harrison Schmitt

By Claus Whiteacre

The first order of business last Thursday afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee was discussion of the proposed budget for the state Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. Analysts did the basic presentation, but at the end, secretary-designate Harrison Schmitt got to chime in.

Given the fawning welcoming of Schmitt by Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), it appeared that Schmitt would have an easy go of it before the influential Senate committee.

Schmitt, 75, started off with a walk down memory lane, starting from when he was a child growing up in Silver City and ranging on to his scholastic adventures, his advances at NASA as an astronaut and finally, to his single term as U.S. Senator.

For a while there, I thought I had walked into a book promotion tour, but Schmitt concluded by saying his recap was merely to present his qualifications to the committee.

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