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Budget compromise effort stumbles in House

SANTA FE – A possible budget deal unraveled Wednesday after House Democrats balked at its terms, leaving the massive spending bill in limbo and lawmakers facing the possibility of a special legislative session.

Top-ranking Republicans expressed frustration after the budget bill was sent back to a House committee on a 34-33 vote, with nearly all House Democrats voting in favor of the move.

“It disappoints me we haven’t done the job we’re supposed to do,” said House GOP Leader Donald Bratton of Hobbs, who had played a lead role in cobbling together the proposed budget compromise.

Public school spending levels – and how much control Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration should have of such spending – continued to be a key point of disagreement, with House Democrats apparently unwilling to make major concessions on the issue.

House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, told reporters late Wednesday that there is still ample time before the 30-day session ends to come up with a budget deal.

“We keep trying to get closer, but there are items that move us apart,” he said.

He said House Democrats emerged from a three-hour caucus meeting Wednesday largely unified in their decision to send the budget bill back to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee for more revisions.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said the Senate won’t wait on the House – as is customary – to pass a budget before taking up the bill.

He said his committee will start making changes today to the $6.2 billion spending plan that first failed to pass the House last week on a 34-34 vote.

“We’re not going to wait on the House any longer,” Smith told the Journal .

A spokesman for Martinez, the state’s first-term Republican governor, said in a statement that the budget stalemate could lead to the governor having to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a budget-focused special session.

“We hope it is not the preference of certain members to spend additional time in a special session, but right now it appears that the extreme elements of one caucus are blocking consensus and bipartisan compromise,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.

Under the terms of the attempted budget deal, Martinez would have received more of the targeted education dollars she is seeking, while spending in other budget areas would have been pared back, or “sanded.”

House Speaker Martinez said Democrats had misgivings about both the numbers and the language in the proposed deal.

He also said special sessions are often used by governors as a negotiating tactic.

“A special session is a concern, but it’s also a threat,” he said. “Is there time to avoid a special (session)? Yes. Will it happen? I don’t know.”

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