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$5.9B spending plan goes to Senate

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SANTA FE – A $5.9 billion state spending plan for the coming year is on its way to the full Senate, after a key panel signed off on an amended version of the budget bill Friday.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 8-0 in favor of the measure, which would tack on an additional $6.5 million to the budget legislation approved by the House last month.

“We didn’t have a lot of extra dollars to work with,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the committee’s chairman.

In its current form, the budget plan would increase state spending by nearly $246 million, or 4.4 percent, from this year’s levels. It would mark the second straight year state spending would rise after three years of budget cuts.

The Senate Finance Committee plan includes a 1 percent pay raise for state workers, including teachers, costing about $15 million.

Finance Committee members spent part of this week working behind closed doors on amendments to the budget before Friday’s vote to adopt the legislation.

Changes to the House-approved budget include:

⋄  An additional $3.5 million for higher education projects. That would bring the proposed increase in higher education spending to about $31 million for the coming fiscal year.

⋄  An increase of $1 million for a teacher evaluation system.

The budget bill does not leave money available for tax breaks proposed by Gov. Susana Martinez, though Smith said such cuts could be enacted if they are included as part of a “revenue-neutral” tax package.

A bill that would trim the state’s corporate income tax rate while enacting new limits on several existing tax incentives is pending in the Senate.

“We didn’t take care of all the governor’s initiatives, but I think it’s a legitimate, true compromise,” Smith said.

The budget bill approved Friday by the Senate Finance Committee would also authorize a $17 million transfer from the state’s reserve funds as a cushion in case of possible federal budget cuts.

The full Senate could vote on the spending plan by Monday, Smith said.

If approved by the Senate, the legislation would then have to return to the House, where members would have to sign off on the proposed amendments, before advancing to Martinez’s desk for final approval.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal

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