A sweeping K-12 education reform bill that would raise salaries for New Mexico teachers but could limit the growth of charter schools in the state’s urban areas is headed to the House floor. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee voted 11-3 to approve the measure, which would improve salaries for New Mexico’s 22,000 classroom teachers across the board over a period of years. “It’s about time we started paying our teachers like professionals,” said Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors of House Bill 5. Currently, teachers in the state’s three-tiered licensure system earn a base salary of $36,000 (Tier 1), $44,000 (Tier 2) and $54,000 (Tier 3). The bill would increase those salaries next year to $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000, respectively.
Prison profits: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s inaugural committee says it will give a donation from the private prison company Geo Group to charity. The Florida-based firm runs several prisons in New Mexico and has contributed to politicians on both sides of the aisle. According to financial disclosures Lujan Grisham’s inaugural committee published last week, Geo Group donated $2,500 to the Democratic governor’s inaugural festivities. Democratic politicians have faced awkward questions about financial contributions from the private prison industry amid outrage over the federal government’s zero-tolerance policy toward undocumented migrants. Companies like Geo Group have stood to gain from the federal policy.
The Legislature’s two chambers are at odds over a proposed $6.3 billion state budget. Unlike recent years when financial problems prompted rounds of cuts, partisan fights and depleted reserves, the disagreements that emerged Tuesday came down to comparatively minor questions about funding roads. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a spending plan on Tuesday that provides bigger pay raises for state police than a version of the budget passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate version of the budget, approved 40-2 by members of that chamber, also provides millions of dollars in additional funding for the district attorney in Albuquerque and returns some of the money cut from school districts last year. But the Senate also scaled back the amount of money the House had approved for roads.
The state lottery’s luck may have run out at the Legislature. A House committee on Wednesday tabled a bill that would end a requirement that the New Mexico Lottery turn over 30 percent of the gross revenue of ticket sales for the state’s college scholarship program. The lottery argues that scrapping the revenue requirement would allow it to boost prizes, in turn raising ticket sales and providing even more money for scholarships, which helped defray expenses for some 26,000 students last year. Critics contend the bill would amount to a blank check for the state lottery and mean less money for students. The 8-8 vote by the Appropriations and Finance Committee did not kill House Bill 147.
A member of the state House of Representatives is asking for an investigation of a legislative committee, charging that several of its members met privately without him to craft part of the annual state budget and omitted his proposal to restore about $41 million cut from the reserves of school districts last year. Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, said the meeting left legislators like him out of part of the process of preparing the spending plan. In an unusual move, Townsend asked the Legislative Council Service to investigate why the meeting did not include him and many other members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “I don’t believe it’s in any of our interest, whether it be a Democratic majority or a Republican majority, to have a process that prevents your constituents or my constituents from being represented,” he said on the House floor Thursday before heading to the council’s offices on the fourth floor to file what the representative described as a verbal complaint. Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, the Gallup Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said the panel did nothing improper or out of the ordinary.
State House Republicans unveiled a spending plan for the upcoming special legislative session that would transfer $12.5 million from the state Legislative Retirement Fund to the general fund to solve the New Mexico’s budget shortfall. Martinez announced the special session will begin Wednesday, May 24. GOP House leaders announced the plan publicly in a press release Tuesday, touting it as a solution to fix the state’s budget issues without raising taxes. “This plan covers New Mexico’s budget needs for the upcoming fiscal year and increases funding for cancer care as well as support for students working to obtain a college degree,” state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to adopt these proposals so we can resolve this budget impasse fairly and for the benefit of all New Mexicans.”
But the ranking lawmaker in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee questioned whether the Legislature could legally transfer money already invested the retirement fund.
The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a spending plan late Wednesday that boosts funding for classrooms and the courts, while cutting money for colleges and universities and leaving most other agencies with no new money. A companion bill also headed to the Senate, House Bill 202, would raise more revenue for future years by boosting fees and taxes. The $250 million a year in new ongoing revenue is needed to avoid more spending cuts and to replenish cash reserves, said sponsor Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe. “We are bleeding, we need to stop that bleeding,” Trujillo said as he held up a graph showing the state’s diminished reserves. The House approved the revenue measure first, because the proposed budget needs some $157 million in additional money to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.
A state Senate committee Monday night approved $1.6 million in funding for the courts, enough to pay for jury trials through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Still, it was unclear whether the legislation represented a temporary or a permanent step back from the brink of a breakdown for the judicial system. The committee action was another pull in a political tug-of-war between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over funding for the courts. The game is being played out against a backdrop of a state budget crunch across all of government. In recent weeks, Martinez has twice vetoed money to avoid a halt to jury trials and potential dismissal of criminal charges against defendants.
The highly touted New Mexico True advertising campaign that spotlights the state’s culture, people and natural resources will not expand to new markets due to state budget constraints. State tourism chief Rebecca Latham told lawmakers Thursday her agency spends more than ever to promote the state, but that has come by reducing employees and consolidating services. New Mexico True promotes the state on airport billboards, print and social media in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, Chicago and most recently Austin. The next logical market is San Francisco, but Latham said the state does not have to money to grow into that market in the coming year. “We still firmly believe San Francisco is the next great market,” she said.
What Republicans called pork, Democrats called crucial funding for communities and public safety. What Democrats called an effort to modernize accounting practices, Republicans called a gimmick. Less than a week after Gov. Susana Martinez encouraged lawmakers to work together to solve the state’s projected $69 million budget deficit, the House of Representatives on Saturday waged a partisan fight on two bills to make New Mexico solvent. Democrats, who control the House 38-32, saw their bills approved in votes that went mostly along party lines. Similar legislation easily cleared the state Senate with bipartisan support.