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New Mexico Legislature, governor set spending priorities

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday recommended a $250 million increase in state general fund spending for the coming fiscal year, emphasizing the need for investments in the criminal justice system, economic development incentives and early childhood care and education.

The Democrat-led Legislature convenes Jan. 16 to craft a state budget for the fiscal year starting in July.

Surging state tax revenues linked to a rebound in the oil and natural gas sectors have been propelling a rapid turnaround in New Mexico government finances after two years of austere budgets. State government income for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2018, is expected to surpass current annual spending by nearly $200 million.

The Republican governor aims to collect an additional $99 million — much of it through the nonprofit health care sector — through proposed changes to tax and health care laws. Several legislative efforts failed last year to overhaul the state’s gross receipts tax on sales and business services.

The governor’s proposal would boost assistance for child care services by $25 million and increase pay for state police, prosecutors, court staff, corrections officers, parole officers and public school teachers.

It includes a 1 percent pay raise for all state employees, and would create a new “exemplary teacher fund” to boost annual pay by as much as $10,000 for teachers that produce high student achievement.

Details of the budget plan were outlined by Nick Piatek, deputy chief of staff for the governor, and top officials with the Department of Finance and Administration.

State general fund spending would increase to more than $6.23 billion under the governor’s plan. A competing budget plan from lawmakers was scheduled for publication Friday afternoon.

Last year, New Mexico plugged a budget hole with money from severance bonds amid a hiring freeze and agency spending cuts.

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