- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 7, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Officials with three key state agencies made their case to an influential panel of New Mexico lawmakers on Wednesday as the battle over limited funds begins to shape up ahead of the legislative session.

The Children, Youth and Families Department and the Health and Human Services agencies appeared before the Legislative Finance Committee during the third day of a weeklong hearing in Sana Fe.

Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest told lawmakers his agency now administers services to more than 900,000 low-income New Mexicans and while the goal is to keep improving access, some costs are rising.

Heath Secretary Lynn Gallagher said supplemental funds are needed to repair or replace equipment at the state scientific lab that’s being held together by masking tape. Otherwise, she said, various testing procedures could be derailed.

She also touted the benefits of programs aimed at curbing drug overdose deaths and said the state needs to be prepared for disease outbreaks.

Child welfare officials are hoping to continue investments in child care initiatives for at-risk families. Funding for training and recruitment of workers to address cultural and morale issues at the department is also on the line.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the finance committee, told the department heads that the budget gap he had warned state officials about months earlier was only getting worse and that agencies are now in the position of having to make cuts in a condensed time period.

“It’s not your fault, but you have to carry out the challenge,” he told them. “The last thing any of us want to do is be put in that position, but now we’re at a time when we don’t even know what our revenues are. They’re still declining.”

Earlier this week, state economists said New Mexico was expected to collect far less revenue this budget year than previously forecast thanks to lagging economic growth, employment and wages.

The sustained slump in the oil and gas industry is also to blame for New Mexico’s revenue shortfall.

Gov. Susana Martinez has dug in her heels in opposition to raising taxes that would affect working families in New Mexico, instead calling for agencies to tighten their belts. Critics have said that won’t be enough and have called for a review of corporate tax breaks.

The Martinez administration, along with lawmakers in both political parties, has tried to protect education and the funding of programs that benefit children, but Smith said Wednesday that the state has reached a point where there are no more solutions for mitigating the pain of cuts as the state looks to fill the gap.

“Every agency is going to have to be on the line, including education,” he said.

Officials with the state Public Education Department were scheduled to address the committee Thursday.

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