Key Senate panel adjusts state spending plan

A key Senate committee on Monday unveiled 123 different changes to a $7 billion state budget approved by the House of Representatives, tweaking proposed raises for school teachers, funding for a marquee economic development program and plans to bring back soccer at the University of New Mexico. The budget would mark an 11 percent increase over the current year’s spending plan as New Mexico enjoys a windfall of tax revenue from an oil and gas boom and as the new Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, sets out an agenda that includes big education funding increases as well as filling vacant positions across state government after years of budget cuts. The House approved the budget mostly along party lines last month, sending it to the Senate, where the Senate Finance Committee on Monday added about $19 million in spending to the plan and rearranged other expenses. The changes include more than trebling funding for an economic development program to $60 million from $14 million. The Local Economic Development Act allows the state to pay for brick-and-mortar upgrades such as roads and utility connections as well as other costs associated with setting up businesses to the state.

Latest projections for state budget: $1.1 billion in ‘new money’

Analysts told lawmakers projections show New Mexico will have $1.1 billion in “new money” to spend compared to last year. But they also urged caution on how to spend that money, given the state’s reliance on volatile oil and gas revenues and the need to replace the money legislators used money from various state programs in recent years. Members of the Legislative Finance Committee, which hears regular budget updates throughout the year, were briefed on the numbers from their chief economist and members of outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s cabinet. The sky-high budget numbers were slightly lower than the August forecast, but still much higher than the state has seen since 2005, before the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The budget boom doesn’t necessarily mean that legislators will fund new recurring programs.

Committee chairwoman, and House Appropriations and Finance Committee chairwoman, Patty Lundstrom, outlined in the most-recent LFC newsletter where the money would likely go.

National attention for Martinez’s veto of entire higher ed budget

Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of the entire higher education budget is getting national attention. First, the Washington Post covered the veto earlier this week. Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education weighed in with a story. Martinez has said the veto was necessary to balance the budget, even as she says the budget—including higher education funding—will be addressed in an upcoming special session. The Washington Post analysis said the veto meant “nothing good” for students, adding the impasse could lead to “significant tuition increases at public universities.”

The newspaper cited a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that found, when adjusted for inflation, higher education funding in New Mexico dropped by 32.2 percent since the Great Recession, the third-largest such drop in the nation.

State budget proposal passes House

The newly empowered Republican House majority approved a proposal for the upcoming fiscal year’s state budget, over protestations by Democrats who pushed two failed late-hour alternative proposals they said reflected their priorities. Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, sponsored the chamber’s ultimately successful budget bill, which totals more than $6.2 billion and includes an increase of $81.7 million over last year. Three hours of debate centered on divisive spending priorities, particularly the House Appropriations and Finance Committee’s apportioning of $36.5 million in new money for public schools. All but $8.3 million of those new funds would be directed toward program priorities of Gov. Susana Martinez and her Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, many of which have received criticism by teachers and some school district leaders. Larrañaga described his budget measure as “balanced” and “well thought-out,” with increases for road projects, child protective services and higher education endowments, plus $9.5 million more for college financial aid.