SANTA FE (KRQE) - In 2008, then-Gov. Bill Richardson signed a $6 billion state budget into law.
After that, a crumbling economy forced deep cuts and New Mexico hasn't spent that much since.
"That's been a six-year span that it's taken for us to get back to that peak," said Tom Clifford, New Mexico's Finance and Administration Secretary. "That's a long time. You might almost call that a lost half decade."
But now it looks like the recovery may officially be complete. Economists are forecasting New Mexico will have just shy of $6.2 billion to spend next budget year, a surplus of $296 million when compared to last year's budget.
Clifford credits a strong oil and gas industry for the surplus as well as a job market that's trending up. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from last month shows the state added about 8,000 jobs compared to last July, a total growth of about 1 percent.
Lawmakers had extra money to spend this past legislative session, leading to a debate about where it was best used. Democrats were pushing for increased education funding and pay raises for state workers. Republicans were looking for corporate tax cuts in a bid to make the state more competitive and more spending on the administration's education reform efforts.
Ultimately, both sides got some of what they wanted after a last-second deal was struck.
Next year, the debate could run along similar lines.
"We need money back in the education budget, we need money in higher education," said House Majority Leader Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque. "We need to replace what we took away during those lean years."
In a statement, Gov. Susana Martinez's spokesperson Enrique Knell says the state's priorities should be investing in education reform and economic development, although Knell did not get into specifics.
Whatever lawmakers ultimately choose to do, Clifford is urging caution.
Federal budget cuts had a big negative impact on the state economy, meaning the state has to spend millions out of reserves to make up the difference. Clifford says the administration will push to save some of the surplus to replenish it.
"We've got to be careful about how we manage our budget but we're actually in pretty good shape all things considered," Clifford said.
The $296 million surplus figure is an early projection. Forecasters caution that another federal budget showdown or more cuts could drastically cut into the surplus or even eliminate it altogether.
Right now, consensus estimates project the general fund will grow by $900 million over the next four years.
With frigid temperatures, it's hard to imagine living without a heater these days. An Albuquerque woman claims that's exactly what her family has had to endure due to a pile of problems inside her apartment.
A District Court judge has ordered city leaders respond to a petition filed by an animal activist on the city's trap-neuter-return approach of managing feral cats.
Police responded to dozens of weather-related crashes in only a matter of hours Sunday.
A small plane crashed at about 8 a.m. Sunday morning on the Canyon Rim Trail near N.M. 502 and the entrance of Los Alamos.
Sunday night in Albuquerque and around the world people gathered for candlelight vigils to remember the loss of their children.
Department of Agriculture officials are warning customers to not get burned when buying firewood.