Governor feeling shortchanged by state lawmakers

By Barry Massey

SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson is objecting to budget bills approved by the House and Senate, saying they were unacceptable because lawmakers shortchanged many of his proposals aimed at children.

“So far the budget does not look like the year of the child. It looks like the year of the porkie pig. And I will not stand for it,” Richardson said Friday at a news conference. “I cannot in good conscience sign a bill that does not address these critical needs.”

Richardson focused his criticisms on a House-passed bill that allocates $5.1 billion to pay for operations of public education and general government programs next year and a Senate-passed bill — called the “junior” budget — that provides $30 million for a host of programs.

Rep. Henry Kiki Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said Richardson was “overreacting.”

“If we were to give him everything he wanted we might as well all go home before we have to pass a tax bill for what he wanted,” said Saavedra. “The governor forgets that legislators also get elected and they’ve got a right to add appropriations into the bill.”

Saavedra said differences between the Legislature and the governor on the budget could be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, which will negotiate the final version of the bill. The Senate still must consider and vote on the House-passed budget proposal.

The governor and his top budget adviser, Finance and Administration Secretary James Jimenez, said the governor’s initiatives were shortchanged by $80 million in “recurring” money for programs that would continue year after year, and $97 million for one-time pilot programs and initiatives. Lawmakers funded about $15 million worth of the governor’s proposals, according to Jimenez.

Richardson complained that the House didn’t provide $5.7 million he sought to provide health insurance for children who are 5 years old and under, $2.1 million he proposed for prevention and treatment of methamphetamine abuse or $10 million for a career technical-vocational education initiative.

In some instances, the House-passed budget didn’t provide as much money for administration proposals as Richardson had recommended. The governor sought $3.9 million to expand prenatal care for pregnant women through Medicaid. The House didn’t fund that in its proposed budget but the Senate included $716,000 for prenatal care in the so-called junior budget bill.