SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico legislators are under pressure to balance a major state budget shortfall and contemplate tougher sentencing provisions for violent crime, including reinstatement of the death penalty. Here are some things to know at the start of Friday’s special legislative session:
BALANCING THE BUDGET
New Mexico started the past fiscal year with $713 million in operating reserves. By June, those funds were depleted as revenue streams faltered amid an oil and natural gas bust that depleted state coffers and had a ripple effect on portions of the economy.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has called on lawmakers to plug last year’s deficit with savings set aside from settlements with major tobacco companies.
The imbalance under the current $6.2 billion budget looms even larger and has been flagged as a concern by a major credit rating agency. Martinez wants the budget balanced but opposes any tax increases and will protect economic development incentives.
State finance officials have targeted cash from idle accounts and reclaimed unspent funds earmarked for construction projects to help offset the anticipated deficit.
Lawmakers involved in the negotiations say those savings won’t be enough and that some agency spending cuts are likely. Senate Democrats are insisting on new, sustainable revenue streams — whether labeled as taxes or not — to reduce the state’s dependence on oil and gas revenue and satisfy credit rating agencies.
REINSTATING CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
New Mexico executed only one person after 1960 and repealed capital punishment in 2009. Martinez says it’s time to bring back the “ultimate penalty,” citing the killings of two police officers in separate shootings in August and September by wanted fugitives, plus last month’s horrific sexual assault, killing and dismemberment of 10-year-old Victoria Martens in Albuquerque.
Sponsors of the legislation say the new death penalty would apply only to convicted killers of police, children and corrections officers.
Opponents of capital punishment, including the Roman Catholic church, say a brief special session scheduled weeks before the general election is the wrong forum for debating a complex moral issue. The entire Legislature is up for re-election in November.
EXPANDING MANDATORY LIFE SENTENCES
Expanded mandatory sentences also are on the agenda, even as many states abandon similar policies amid concerns about prison overpopulation.
Martinez and Republican allies want to expand New Mexico’s three-strikes law requiring a life sentence for criminals with three or more violent felony convictions to include a longer list of applicable offenses. The legislation failed to clear the Democrat-led Senate earlier this year.
Also on the agenda is a proposal to expand “Baby Brianna’s Law” to require mandatory life sentences for people convicted of intentional child abuse resulting in death, regardless of a child’s age.
The existing statute is named after a 5-month-old who died in 2002 after being sexually assaulted and suffering skull fractures and other injuries. Martinez was the district attorney who prosecuted the child’s mother, father and uncle.