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Gov. Signs $5.6 Billion Budget

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Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law on Friday a $5.6 billion budget that, starting this summer, will increase total New Mexico state government spending for the first time in four years.

Martinez, the state’s first-term Republican governor, touted beefed-up funding for public schools and more than $30 million in tax breaks aimed at invigorating the state’s economy after signing the budget bill in a Rio Rancho elementary school.

“This year, we balanced the budget but we didn’t spend every dime that we had,” Martinez said. “I think agencies are being smarter about the money they do have and not growing for the sake of growing.”

While approving most proposed spending, Martinez used her line-item veto authority to delete about $2 million from the budget. Many of the line-item vetoes were for relatively small earmarks that Martinez described as “constitutionally objectionable.”

Vetoed earmarks included $100,000 for a robotics program at Eastern New Mexico University and $80,000 for a Gallup food bank.

“I’m happy she didn’t veto any more than that,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, the deputy chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “We felt that most of what was in (the budget) was needed.”

Counting the line-item vetoes, the budget calls for state spending to be increased by $219 million – or about 4 percent – from this year’s levels.

Most of that “new” spending will go toward public schools and Medicaid, which make up about 60 percent of the state budget.

The governor’s signing of the legislative spending plan, which was expected, also means that barring a severe economic downturn, lawmakers will not have to return to Santa Fe this year for a special session on the budget.

“I’m hopeful we won’t have to come back and address any kind of emergency before the next legislative session,” Varela said.

The budget does not call for a salary increase for state employees, though it will provide workers, including teachers, with additional take-home pay by decreasing how much money they have to pay into their retirement accounts. That decrease will be offset by an increase in taxpayer-funded state contributions.

Meanwhile, tax breaks approved by the Legislature during the 30-day session that ended Feb. 16 include a tax credit for employers who hire veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and a tax exemption on certain services for New Mexico contractors and manufacturers.

In addition to the budget, Martinez also signed five other bills into law Friday, including a measure that calls for an early childhood education program to be permanently housed in the Public Education Department.

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