Senate returns $8.5 billion budget plan to House

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In this file photo, Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, speaks to another lawmaker at the Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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SANTA FE — With bipartisan support, lawmakers passed a revised budget proposal on Monday that would increase state spending by 14% as New Mexico enjoys a revenue boom, enabling new investments in the education and public safety.

The Senate voted 37 to 3 in favor of the plan, sending it back to the House.

According to the proposal, New Mexico’s budget would reach nearly $8.5 billion, about $1 billion more than this year’s spending plan.

The legislation includes particularly healthy raises for educators and state police, in addition to retention allowances for experienced law enforcement officers statewide.

Teachers and school staff should get average increases of 7%, or 10% if their school participates in programs that extend the school year or learning time.

Minimum salaries for each of the three tiers of the teacher licensing system would also increase by $10,000 each, ensuring, for example, that any Tier 3 teacher would receive at least $70,000 a year.

State police officers could get 16% raises. The budget also includes funding for separate legislation that requires law enforcement officers across the state to earn retention bonuses at certain stages in their careers.

For other employees, the budget provides sufficient funding for increases of 7% on average for employees of the State and higher education establishments.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Muñoz, D-Gallup, checked off a list of other funded initiatives in the budget plan, ranging from $50 million for local economic development projects to $10 million for housing programs for the homeless.

The budget also leaves room for $400 million in tax cuts that would be determined in separate legislation.

“We have an opportunity in New Mexico like we’ve never had,” Muñoz said of the revenue boost.

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said the proposal deserved more scrutiny than it got.

“I’m torn here,” he said during the debate. “I know there are very good things here. Also, there are things here that are absolute rubbish.

In the end, he did not oppose the bill, which won bipartisan support. Only three Republicans voted “no”.

The budget legislation, House Bill 2, has already passed the House, but must return to this House for consideration of changes made by the Senate. House agreement on the amended version would send it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The increased spending is made possible by strong growth in oil and gas revenues, among other sources of government revenue.

About $2.6 billion would remain in reserves. Lawmakers estimated that financial reserves would amount to 29% to 31% of expenses, with the exact figure depending on the accuracy of revenue estimates and other factors.

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