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Legislature unlikely to plug budget gap

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — As we predicted, last week’s train wreck looks less imminent as the session’s end approaches. Last weekend state senators crafted themselves a budget bill and declared themselves ready to talk to the House.

The talks aren’t going smoothly. Public posturing is still the name of the game and likely still will be by the time you read this. But there’s still time.

Lawmakers don’t want to spend any more time up here than necessary. They aren’t getting paid. They want to get home and back to earning a living.

Unfortunately the budgets passed by each house don’t look much alike. The Senate made cuts the House didn’t and passed a completely different set of taxes.

But if the Senate truly believes its mantra about everyone having to share the pain, it will finally back off its insistence that we still coddle the rich.

Whatever agreement the House and Senate hammer out, it isn’t likely to plug the entire $650 million budget gap. Lawmakers know they will have to be back soon after the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.

It appears that not enough money was appropriated to balance this year’s budget. So not only will $40 million more have to be appropriated for this year, it means the state revenue forecasters overestimated next year’s revenues.

That means $650 million won’t be enough to fill that hole in next year’s budget. So it doesn’t really matter much if we don’t get that hole completely filled by Thursday.

And whatever decisions this Legislature makes, they aren’t the last word anyway. Recently Gov. Bill Richardson has been doing something never before tried by a chief executive. If he doesn’t like parts of the Legislature’s budget, he will veto them and then issue an executive order addressing the subject in his way.

It is unclear whether Gov. Richardson’s reshaping of legislative actions by executive order is legal or constitutional. Executive orders never have been used to the extent Richardson has gone. The Legislature’s only recourse appears to be to the courts. That has been discussed but no action has yet been taken.

If Gov. Richardson stays true to form, he is likely to scale back both budget cuts and tax increases. If he continues on that path the remainder of his term, which ends Dec. 31, he would leave it up to a new governor to do the dirty work next year.

• • •

A few years ago the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto is no longer a planet. That upset many New Mexicans because Pluto’s discoverer, Dr. Clyde Tombaugh, spent the last 50 years of his life in Las Cruces, where he headed the New Mexico State University astronomy department until his retirement.

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Pluto’s discovery, Rep. Joni Marie Gutierrez, D-Dona Ana, has introduced a House Memorial declaring Feb. 18, 2010 as “Pluto is a Planet in New Mexico Day.”

Tombaugh died in 1997. An ounce of his ashes is being carried on the New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006 and scheduled for a fly-by of Pluto in 2014.

HM 17 proclaims that thanks to Dr. Tombaugh, Pluto will always be considered a planet in New Mexico.

• • •

Valentine’s Day this year was accompanied by more stories than usual about unusual gifts that go out of their way to express one’s love. My award for the best gift this year goes to Kelly Egolf, of Santa Fe.

Her husband, freshman Rep. Brian Egolf, has introduced legislation requiring state funds be deposited in local New Mexico banks instead of the big national ones.

Egolf’s proposal has gained popularity both here and nationally but few accounts have mentioned Egolf’s name. So wife Kelly has sent a friendly reminder to the media suggesting that her husband be given a little credit.

Write to Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com