The $9.57 billion state budget on its way to the governor has a lot in it to like: increases for the many state agencies that have been underfunded for years, full funding for the Opportunity Scholarship that allows many New Mexicans to go to college tuition-free and rate increases for Medicaid health care providers that should help the state attract and keep doctors and other health professionals. At the same time, it leaves room for a capital outlay bill with more than $1 billion for infrastructure and equipment and a tax package that includes a cut in the gross receipts tax and rebates for taxpayers. Finally, importantly, to prepare for the day when fossil fuel revenues decline, the spending plan also includes $675 million for permanent funds that will generate income in the years to come.
But these substantial investments into the health and well-being of New Mexicans and their quality of life come with a note of caution. The oil and gas production boom that has made them possible might be getting close to peaking.
If the General Appropriation Act of 2023, commonly called HB2, is signed into law, the spending level for the fiscal year that starts on July 1 would be a 51% increase over spending five years ago. New Mexico has been able to increase spending to that degree largely thanks to the oil and gas industry, which has seen unprecedented growth in the last two years.
But it’s important to remember that oil prices dipped so low just three years ago — when the start of the pandemic drove down demand — that brokers had to pay buyers to take oil off their hands. More systemically, fossil fuel usage is likely to decline as more consumers turn to renewables, and New Mexico’s finite fossil fuel resources, at some point, will start to run out.
That is why, with solid revenues in place now, we must invest in projects and services that will pay off in the long run — in our infrastructure, in services to children and families, and in preserving New Mexico’s inspiring natural environment.
The budget bill on the way to the governor does that. It has an 8% increase for public schools and an 18% hike for colleges and universities. It has sharp increases for prekindergarten and child care and funding to fill hundreds of social worker positions. It has generous one-time money for grants and other incentives for new and expanding business and increases up to almost 15% for natural resources agencies.
And, thus, another note of caution: While the Legislature can fund services and programs, the executive must implement them. With this surge of money, accountability will be critical. The executive must ensure no money gets sidetracked, that the money is used on programs that we know give us a return on our investment, and that the money is not left to idle, where it does not do the good it’s intended to do.
New Mexico’s revenue windfall, coupled with the precarious source of that windfall, puts New Mexico in an interesting position as it plans for the future. We have the resources now to make lasting change but we must spend them wisely and plan for a time when those resources won’t be there. This budget proposal is the first step.
Sen. Pete Campos, a Democrat from Las Vegas who holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a masters’ in guidance and counseling, has been a member of the Senate since 1991 and a member of the Senate Finance Committee since 1997. Campos is also a member of the Legislative Finance, Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy, and Water and Natural Resources committees. He has served as the senator from District 8 in northern New Mexico since 1991 and has served as president of Luna Community College, superintendent of the Las Vegas City Schools and mayor of Santa Rosa.