Budget guru to New Mexico Legislature retires after 25 years

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The director of the budget and accountability office for the New Mexico Legislature is retiring from the agency he led for 25 years through a historic recession, a collapse in the oil economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and a new and unprecedented financial windfall.

Director David Abbey will leave the agency known as the Legislative Finance Committee this summer. He guided the office through the tenure of four governors, earning recognition for ensuring state government solvent in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 Great Recession, a 2014 collapse in oil prices as well as the pandemic.

New Mexico is one of about five states where the Legislature prepares its own budget plan, independent of the executive branch.

Abbey said he was especially proud of his work on funding for full-day kindergarten, extended learning at public schools and the state’s home visiting program that helps parents of infant children.

The state’s financial challenges extend to bountiful eras, he said, such as this year when lawmakers deployed a multibillion-dollar general fund surplus to critical programs and thousands of new construction projects.

“How do you not just throw money at problems? … How do you make sure it gets spent effectively, how do you get good outcomes?” Abbey said.

With a staff of about 40 economists, program analysts and support staff, the Legislature’s budget and accountability office not only develops annual spending recommendations but also conducts performance evaluations of executive state agencies and crucial state programs.

The state’s current financial windfall is linked closely to the oil sector in the No. 2 state for petroleum production behind Texas.

“We’re a very poor state, but we’re rich in finances right now,” Abbey said. We’ve seen it come and go.”

Lawmakers who oversee the Legislative Finance Committee next meet in May to begin the process of appointing a successor.