Martinez shifts language on education, Medicaid cuts
Faced with a dramatically larger budget deficit than previously predicted, Gov.-elect Susana Martinez appears to be shifting her language about cuts to education and health care.
Martinez said repeatedly on the campaign trail that she opposed any cuts to education and Medicaid. But at a news conference on Friday, she instead talked about protecting “classroom spending” and “basic health care for those most in need.”
“Closing what we learned yesterday to be a half-billion dollar deficit is going to be a challenge,” Martinez said at the news conference. “During the campaign, we had deficit estimates that started around $80 million. Suddenly, we’re now at half a billion.”
“…In tackling that challenge, we must protect critical government services, such as classroom spending and basic health care for those most in need,” she said.
In addition to opposing education and Medicaid cuts, Martinez said during the campaign that she opposed tax increases and taking money from the permanent funds to deal with the state’s fiscal crisis. That left cuts to the other 40 percent of state government as Martinez’s plan to balance the budget.
Martinez said during the campaign that she feared the Richardson administration wasn’t being honest and that the fiscal situation was worse than budget estimates indicated. But she made the pledge to balance the budget without cuts to education and Medicaid anyway.
Last week she said the $450 million estimate was “far worse” than even she expected.
Realistic and practical
Some lawmakers have said Martinez’s campaign pledges were not realistic and they expected her to shift gears. If that’s what’s happening now, it is a move many will view as realistic and practical. Even House Minority Whip Keith Gardner, R-Roswell – the first lawmaker to support Martinez’s run for governor – hasn’t said Martinez could balance the budget and keep her campaign pledge.
Gardner has said he believes it’s possible to balance the budget without raising taxes and without cutting anything but waste from education and Medicaid programs. But that’s different than Martinez’s pledge to balance the budget without any cuts to the education and Medicaid budgets.
Still, a shift away from her campaign pledge could be politically risky for Martinez. Democrats would be likely to hammer her in four years for breaking a promise to protect education and Medicaid.
But Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, has told NMPolitics.net that he expected Martinez to shift gears. “Once you get the campaign people away from her,” Smith said, “…I think she’s going to look at it in a different light and recognize that we’re in a serious situation.”
Martinez’s new language about education and health care came during her introduction on Friday of Richard May to be her administration’s finance secretary. May, a former Republican staff director for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget, said Martinez is “a serious person who expects results.”
Martinez indicated that she is willing to work across the political aisle to get things done.
“I will work in a bipartisan fashion, with Republicans and Democrats, to permanently solve this crisis and put our financial house in order,” she said.
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