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We face ‘the most significant budget deficit in state history’

New Mexico is facing a situation without modern precedent: a global pandemic coupled with an economic crisis of a magnitude far greater than the Great Recession of 2008. As speaker, my obligation is to state clearly the tough choices the Legislature will have to make in the coming months to protect our health, safety and economy.

First and foremost, I want you to know that Democrats in the House are committed to maintaining the core functions of state government: health care, education and public safety. While we do that, our top priority is to revive our economy, help get small businesses back on their feet and support New Mexicans who have lost a job because of the pandemic. To every small business owner in New Mexico who is frustrated, angry and anxious about the future: I hear you, and I am working with the governor and across the aisle in the Legislature to put in place a plan for reopening our economy as swiftly as public safety will allow.

Before this pandemic, our state was fighting to change our economic trajectory, and the Legislature made major investments into education, teacher salaries, small business, local economic development and economic diversification. We did all that while creating the largest reserve balance in state history.

The current downturn stands in stark contrast to the boom we were experiencing just months ago. No one could have predicted the swiftness or severity of our change in fortunes. The challenges have literally never been greater than what we face today, but I take comfort knowing that we are in this together, and that we have everything we need to make it through present difficulties and emerge stronger than before.

Every community has been hit hard by this crisis. As a small business owner myself, I am well aware of the consequences of an uncertain economic future. Between the staggering unemployment projections and the falling price of oil, we are sure to experience a massive blow to our state’s budget. No amount of reserves could have shielded us from the impact of these global forces.

Without any doubt, New Mexicans must prepare for the most significant budget deficit in state history. The solution will not be to simply revert to budgets from previous years, or to cut education or health care. We will need to be more creative than ever before to guide our state back on course. We must learn from our experience from 2010-2018 when the biggest-ticket items were cut without thought to innovation, keeping our state lagging behind our neighbors in economic growth and recovery.

Your state Legislature is no stranger to dire economic situations that require creativity, tenacity and strength. Right now, there are simply too many unknowns to convene a special session and pass responsible legislation. We must have a clear understanding of what federal funds New Mexico will receive to shore up our budget and help us bring resources to the table for businesses and unemployed New Mexicans. We need to understand the extent of lost revenue, and we need to be deliberate in our response because hasty decisions too often lead to undesirable results. The consensus among public health experts, economists and state fiscal analysts is to wait to convene a special session until June. The Arizona legislature is planning to reconvene in June for the same reasons.

Today, we have many more questions than answers. The challenges we face together are without precedent in our lifetimes and the history of our state. Many have answered the call to serve their neighbors, communities and stay home out of concern for the health of everyone. These actions have saved lives, supported our health care workers, and set the stage for a reopening of our economy that provides reassurance and stability to business and consumers alike. I urge all my fellow legislators to come together during this crisis as we take our first steps down the road to recovery.

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