New Mexico Supreme Court justices testify on $7M budget discrepancy
SANTA FE, N.M. — When putting together the state budget this year, the Legislative Finance Committee dedicated more than $900,000 to New Mexico’s court system.
However, the Administrative Office of the Courts countered. They said they need a $7.8 million budget to continue operating all of their programs statewide.
So where does the $7 million discrepancy come from? It is related to a law the New Mexico Legislature passed last year.
“House Bill 139, which eliminated fees in criminal traffic cases, mostly that funded a number of activities in the court,” said Arthur Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
While the courts supported that bill, they did say the state would have to make up the $8 million those fees brought in to continue to fund various programs – and they say they can’t with what’s currently in the budget recommendations.
On Friday, all five New Mexico Supreme Court justices testified in front of the House Appropriations Committee. They said the courts use that money to pay trial jurors, run the warrant round-up call center and ensure 24/7 ankle monitor tracking.
“With the recommendations that we have, we would have to cut operations somewhere. And electronic monitoring is the easiest to cut and segregate to its own activity,” Pepin said.
In 2021, 4 Investigates found officials were not tracking ankle monitors 24/7. In 2022, the state Legislature called for $4 million to do just that – and lawmakers want that monitoring to continue.
“To have those monitored 24/7, that’s something this Legislature is committed to,” said Rep. Nathan Small, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “We said it very clearly. Not only do we want them under 24/7 monitoring, we want to expand across the state those pretrial services.”
After hearing testimony all day Friday and Monday, the appropriations committee says they are all on the same page.
“What I heard certainly from the committee is bipartisan, overwhelming support. something I’m proud of,” Small said. “To see that this is an important priority we’re going to address, it’s part of how we enhance public safety. That’s the message. That was my biggest takeaway.”
The Administrative Office of the Courts will have to testify in front of the Senate Finance Committee. A date for that has not been set yet.