House panel advances record $8.47 billion budget bill

Lawmakers have described the budget-making process in state government as a nightmare in lean times.

But with record revenue projections, due in part to expected tax growth, rebounding oil and gas markets and federal pandemic aid, a lawmaker compared New Mexico’s proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2023 to a dream come true.

On Tuesday, a key legislative panel approved that plan — a record $8.47 billion budget that would increase state spending by 13.8%, or about $1 billion, in the current fiscal year. .

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee voted 15 to 3 to advance a substitute for House Bill 2, which includes average pay increases of 7% for teachers and state employees and $25 million for evidence-based criminal justice reform initiatives, including stipends to hire new police officers. . The proposal also leaves about $400 million for tax-related initiatives.

“In my 10 years on this committee, my level of frustration goes up and down depending on how much revenue … we have to distribute,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque. “It’s been a really good year.”

Governor’s press secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham reported that the budget bill passed by the committee did not have the governor’s full support.

“We will continue to advocate for a state budget that includes additional funding for the transformational investments in New Mexico’s future that our families deserve, including in higher education, public safety, hunger and poverty. health care delivery,” Nora Meyers Sackett wrote in an email. .

Reserves remain strong at $2.57 billion, or 30% of spending levels, under the proposed budget.

Worries about the state’s financial future, however, have weighed heavily on some lawmakers who worry about how long the good times will last — and remember the days not too long ago when cuts massive had to be carried out.

“This is clearly a record high tide, but we all know the tide goes in and the tide goes out,” said Rep. Phelps Anderson, a Roswell independent.

The proposed budget provides $145 million for lottery scholarships and $53 million for the Opportunity scholarship program to provide free tuition for the next five years.

Additionally, the budget contains $319 million for transportation projects, including upgrading Cerrillos Road from St. Michael’s to St. Francis drives in Santa Fe.

Funding for public schools would increase to $3.87 billion, an increase of nearly $425 million from the current fiscal year. In addition to average pay increases of 7% for all school staff, the budget provides additional pay increases of 3% for educators at schools participating in the K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time programs. There is also a 2% increase in employer contributions to the Education Superannuation Fund to improve its solvency, although higher employer contributions are subject to the passage of a bill the Legislative Assembly is considering. .

The proposal increases funding for higher education by $28 million.

“Higher education initiatives include telemedicine, equalizing regional college funding, and expanding nurse practitioner niches” at the University of New Mexico, said Bill Valdez, chief of staff for the committee.

Valdez added that the bill calls for a 10.8% increase in recurring general fund revenue, with the goal of providing nearly 16% raises to state troopers, as well as targeted pay increases for other positions related to violent crime. There’s also about $700,000 for the Law Enforcement Academy Board, which oversees officer training certification and misconduct allegations for police statewide.

The 234-page budget proposal “is a lot of spending,” Anderson said.

“This is clearly a record budget that not only brings record appropriations, but also brings about many changes for New Mexico in the areas of education, law enforcement. [and] in our various health initiatives as we recover from the pandemic,” he said.

But Republicans who voted against the budget proposal questioned whether spending was prudent.

“This budget is like a dream budget,” said Rep. Randall Crowder, R-Clovis. “I still find myself stumbling a bit on the recurring funding of 13.8% that is on offer.”

Crowder said the proposed budget appears to meet “everybody’s needs.”

“But I find it hard to believe it’s sustainable,” he said. “If oil and gas goes sideways or if we have volatility, or if the feds don’t continue to provide COVID dollars to our state, we’re going to be in big trouble.”

Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, said the budget includes economic development investments that will help the state, which relies heavily on oil and gas to fund its operations, diversify its revenue streams.

“We’re giving the Department of Economic Development, I believe, an additional $30 million in Local Economic Development Act funds, and we’re also supporting incubators and places for new Mexicans to help innovate new technologies.” , she said.

“We are in good hands and we continue to make key investments in revenue diversification,” she added. “I feel very safe and I feel good about voting for this budget.”

Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, said she agreed with most of her colleagues on “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

“There are so many good things at once that we have a lot of money,” she said. “I too was, first year in the legislature [in 2017], where we swept every nook and cranny we could and had no down payment. And now, until this.

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