Budget balancing session ends

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE The Legislature adjourned a politically difficult special session on Thursday after putting the finishing touches on more than $230 million in tax increases to balance the state budget next year.

The final measure to win approval was a 75-cents-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax. It will generate $33 million next year.

“We did what we had to do. We got the job done,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat. “I think we helped keep government running and people employed.”

Without the tax increases, he and other Democrats said, New Mexico would need to slash spending and potentially lay off hundreds of workers in state agencies and public schools.

Republicans argued that the tax increases will hurt New Mexicans and the economy, and might not solve the state’s financial problems.

“I’ve got to tell you that I think this is one of the darkest weeks that I can remember in 10 years of being a state senator,” Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque, told his colleagues.

Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson has 20 days to decide whether to sign or veto the tax and budget bills approved by the Legislature.

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