New Mexico Legislature approves budget that boosts pay

February 15, 2018

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom speaks at a meeting with top budget writers from the House and the Senate to determine last minute changes on the budget at the Capitol in in Santa Fe, N.M., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Gabriela Campos/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers ended a standoff Wednesday between the House and Senate over minor provisions of a $6.3 billion spending bill, clearing the way for increased spending on public schools, the criminal justice system, roadways and Medicaid.

The budget bill cleared the House and Senate on Wednesday evening after a conference committee negotiated a compromise on disputed spending provisions for road maintenance, highway restroom upkeep, school district reimbursements and subsidies for police hiring. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez can veto any portion of the bill.

Democratic Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, who led the final budget negotiations on behalf of the House, said it was important to preserve spending on roads to boost employment and the state economy.

Lawmakers on Wednesday agreed to devote $4 million toward highway rest stops.

Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, a budget negotiator, called the condition of New Mexico highway rest stops “embarrassing” when compared with facilities in Arizona.

In all, the budget bill would increase general fund spending by $259 million — or about 4 percent — for the fiscal year starting July 1. A rebound in the oil and natural gas sectors is providing a windfall for the state after two years of austere budgeting.

Legislative leaders and Martinez have insisted on maintaining state reserves at 10 percent of annual spending obligations as a buffer against future economic downturns — complicating efforts to fulfill competing spending wish lists.

Martinez has stressed the need shore up spending on law enforcement — especially at the district attorney’s office overseeing Albuquerque. The operating budget for that office would rise 16.5 percent under the Legislature’s proposal, with additional funding to prosecute violent crimes against children, create a crime strategies unit and clear a backlog of court cases.

Martinez spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell said in an email Wednesday that the governor is generally pleased by the budget proposal and how it prioritizes public safety and economic development.

Senate budget amendments also boost pay by 8.5 percent for state police, prison guards and parole officers.

The House-Senate conference committee agreed to $44 million in general fund spending on statewide road maintenance for the coming fiscal year — a reduction from the original $60 million House allotment.

Under the compromise, the state will return $5 million to public school district accounts.

The Legislature has endorsed a 2.3 percent increase on public school funding to $2.7 billion. School districts in New Mexico depend on the state for the majority of their funding.

Teacher pay would increase by an average of 2.5 percent under the Senate plan, with some discretion left to individual school districts on assigning raises. State workers would receive a 2 percent base pay increase with larger raises for prosecutors, judges, court personnel, social workers and nurses.

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