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Governor wants deal before special session begins

LAS CRUCES – Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday that she intends to call legislators into special session “in the next couple of weeks” to vote on next year’s still-unfinished budget.

Last week, the governor struck down a $350 million package of tax increases proposed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and instead vetoed all funding for higher education and the legislative branch – ostensibly to force lawmakers back to the negotiating table.

Martinez repeated her opposition to tax hikes during a news conference Monday in Las Cruces but said she is “confident” she and lawmakers can agree on a balanced budget before she calls them back to Santa Fe.

“It will be in the next couple of weeks,” she said. “It is something we are trying to work out with the Legislature – a budget that is responsible, does not include tax increases – and then I’ll call the session. Hopefully, there is an agreement before then so we’re not paying $50,000 a day on a special session.”

New Mexico is wrangling with a severe budget shortfall.

The state budget relies heavily on the energy industry, and revenue to the state fell significantly after oil and gas prices crashed in 2014. A barrel of crude dropped from about $100 a barrel to below $50 a barrel, where oil has been trading in recent months.

“It was a priority to send me a balanced budget and one without raising taxes on our families,” Martinez said. “But I do believe we can work together, that we can fix this problem, that we can revisit the higher education budget and put it back to the way it needs to be. And that’s what I intend to do. I have confidence we can pull together and fix this budget.”

Martinez told reporters she could support extending the state’s gross receipts tax to internet sales – closing a loophole without raising taxes, per se – but would not support other proposals increasing taxes on sales of gas or new or used vehicles.

Democrats, in turn, say they already sent Martinez a sensible budget, one that gave her a variety of tax options to choose from. They say their proposal, which had bipartisan support in the Senate, was crafted with input from her administration.