- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico budget officials are seeking to ward off further layoffs and reduced services at a world-renowned network of state museums and historical sites through a one-time accounting maneuver.

The Department of Cultural Affairs said Friday that lawmakers are studying a proposal to provide $1.5 million to the agency for the current fiscal year and the budget year starting July 1 through a complex swap of unused capital outlay funds.

The department oversees eight state museums and eight cultural sites that represent an engine of the state tourism economy, displaying cultural treasures from the story of Billy the Kid to international folk art. Its operating budget shrank by 12 percent for the current fiscal year, as a reserve fund ran dry and the state slashed general fund appropriations while sweeping $2.5 million from a fund for commissioning artwork at new public buildings and facilities.

Members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Thursday discussed efforts to shore up funding to the agency without increasing appropriations from the state’s general fund.

The state is struggling to draft a balanced budget deficit for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1, after slashing current-year spending at most state agencies and sweeping cash balances from state accounts including local school districts. The budget crunch is linked to a downturn in the oil and natural gas sector and a sluggish overall economy.

Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales said the proposed supplemental funding “will help us shore up that shortfall and stabilize us.”

Recent solvency measures at the department include eliminating 12 staff positions, increasing admission prices at all museums and historical sites and reducing operating hours at some museums and historic sites.

Annual appropriations of $28 million to the agency represent about half a percent of the state’s $6 billion general fund budget.

National Hispanic Cultural Center Executive Director Rebecca Avitia told lawmakers on Thursday that money has been saved by reducing library hours and shrinking security and custodial staff, but that further cuts would be counterproductive.

“We focused a lot on increasing revenue, understanding the situation you are in,” she said. “Our ability to continue to do that in the face of the budget cuts becomes increasingly difficult.”


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