Legislature negotiates state budget boost, stimulus package

Mar 13, 2019

By MORGAN LEE Associated PressSANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators moved closer Wednesday to an annual budget agreement that is likely to increases spending on education by nearly a half-billion dollars and channel a windfall in tax income toward infrastructure and economic stimulus.The state Senate took up deliberations on a general fund budget bill that increases spending by just over $700 million or 11 percent to $7 billion for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. Spending on public education would increase by $448 million to $3.2 billion as the state grapples with a court order to improve schooling for poor, minority students.A separate bill pending in the Senate would spend $858 million in surplus general funds on state and local infrastructure projects, from roads to rooftop solar and high-speed internet.Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Legislators in the Democratic majority in the House are seeking to make good on campaign promises to boost spending on  education and invigorate the state's economy with stimulus spending on construction projects and reforms to spur growth in the clean energy sector, film and moribund economic sectors.The spending plan for education and state government is more austere than the budget request from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who sought an $800 million increase and has the power to line-item veto individual spending provisions or the entire budget — though major disagreements are unlikely.The state is expected to finish this fiscal year at the end of June with $1.4 billion in excess revenue. The forecast calls for revenues to outpace spending obligations again next fiscal year, resulting in a $1.1 billion surplus, according to economists at three state agencies and the Legislature.Senate approval would send the spending bill back to the House for consideration of a long list of recent amendments.House Speaker Brian Egolf said resistance is likely on the distribution of public school raises and a House initiative to reinstate of intercollegiate soccer, volleyball and ski teams at the University of New Mexico.The House is seeking across-the-board 6 percent average raises for school staff, while the Senate wants average raises of 6 percent with relative winners and losers."Those are two very different things," said Democratic Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces.A 4 percent pay increase is slated at all state agencies.Transportation projects with the general fund spending bill account for $250 million in expenses designed to boost economic growth, along with $89 million for maintenance projects and $50 million in local government road funds.The Senate version of the budget would increase subsidies to the private sector, channeling $60 million toward a closing fund that aids new or expanded businesses in New Mexico with infrastructure needs.The spending plan also would fund startup costs for a proposed agency for early childhood education. Increased spending also is proposed for oilfield regulation amid an oil boom in the southeast corner of the state.