By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
SANTA FE, NM (AP) – The governor of New Mexico and leading state lawmakers on Thursday proposed a $ 1 billion increase in general fund spending for the next fiscal year – an increase of about 14% aimed at bolstering access to health care, to improve public education and new investments in child welfare and public safety.
The Democratic-led legislature’s main budget drafting committee outlined its spending priorities ahead of a 30-day legislative session beginning Jan. 18, which focuses primarily on spending and taxation.
“New Mexico has an opportunity for generational change with the amount of money we have,” said Democratic Senator George Muñoz of Gallup.
The Legislative Assembly’s spending plan shares top priorities with a separate budget proposal from Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham including a 7% pay hike for public education workers, as well as additional support from taxpayers for pensions and medical care.
Public employees in most state government agencies would receive similar two-step pay increases, starting in April, as part of the legislature’s plan.
Lujan Grisham promoted his spending proposals to fight hunger, recruit teachers, hire and retain state police officers and establish a new state “climate change office” with 15 staff who would help. reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“These are investments that take us beyond the status quo, beyond decades of unnecessary austerity,” said Lujan Grisham, alluding to his Republican predecessor.
Lujan Grisham also requested $ 50 million in spending to create a training academy for the film and media industries to be run by a consortium of existing state colleges and universities.
General fund spending under the legislative proposal would increase to $ 8.46 billion, while the governor’s budget provides for nearly $ 8.45 billion. This represents an increase from $ 7.46 billion for the current fiscal year which ends in June 2022.
As part of the Legislative Assembly’s budget plan, spending on public education alone would increase by more than 12%, or at least $ 410 million.
The state would provide an additional $ 243 million to support Medicaid health care for the needy as the federal government ends pandemic-related grants to the insurance program for people living in poverty or on the verge of s ‘to hire. Medicaid enrollments have increased across New Mexico amid the economic disruption of the pandemic.
Public schools would be required to extend classroom learning time in the face of resistance from many teachers and parents, as part of the legislature’s budget plan. At the same time, schools would benefit from new flexibility to design their own mix of extended class hours and additional calendar days.
The Legislative Assembly’s Budget and Accountability Office has assembled extensive research showing that extending the school calendar or daily class time without changing teachers can lead to lasting academic progress among students.
New Mexico’s education system consistently ranks last in the United States among high rates of child poverty.
Lawmakers are seeking to resolve a court ruling that the state is failing to provide adequate educational opportunities for poor and minority students and people with disabilities.
The state’s budget plan allocates $ 180 million to address educational gaps identified in the litigation, shifting more spending to schools with high concentrations of “at risk” students.
The increase in state revenues is primarily related to the petroleum and natural gas industry and increased oil production in the Permian Basin which straddles southwestern New Mexico and western New Mexico. Texas.
Monthly revenues from natural resource development on state-owned land set a new record for December, adding $ 141 million to a permanent fund that uses returns on investment to cover expenses for public schools, hospitals and universities.
The budget proposals leave room for a possible reduction in current tax rates on gross receipts, which add a burden on top of sales and business-to-business transactions. The tax currently varies from around 5% to over 9% depending on local taxation.
Lawmakers have indicated that a tax cut proposal is likely, without further details.
Both budget plans provided for funds equivalent to at least 30% of annual spending obligations – hedge against any economic crisis, including a possible collapse in global oil prices and local oil production.
Democratic State Representative Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, chair of the Legislative Assembly’s budget drafting committee, said now is the right time to cautiously increase spending.
“At this point, we think it’s fair, and it’s because we have a 30% reserve,” she said. “It’s just the way we ride.”
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