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House Republicans propose spending plan

SANTA FE – In a rare move for the minority party, House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled an alternative spending plan to a Democratic-backed $7 billion budget proposal that’s expected to be voted on today by the full House.

House GOP members acknowledged it’s unlikely their plan will move forward, as Democrats hold a 46-24 majority in the chamber.

But the Republicans said New Mexicans should at least be presented with an alternative to a budget bill they described as unsustainable.

“We are being asked by families in our districts to be the rational voices in Santa Fe,” Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, told reporters.

The $6.6 billion budget plan proposed by House Republicans would use part of an unprecedented state budget surplus to give $200 rebates to every New Mexico resident.

The state last issued direct rebates to residents in 2008, during the final years of then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s tenure.

Overall, the GOP budget plan would increase state spending by roughly $300 million – or 5 percent – over current levels.

The Democratic-backed plan that cleared a House budget-writing committee earlier this week calls for a spending increase of $684 million – or about 10.8 percent.

Both plans would provide 6 percent pay raises to state teachers and other education professionals.

But the House GOP plan’s total spending on New Mexico’s public school system would be less than under House Bill 2, the official budget bill.

It would also not provide raises to all state workers – just teachers and employees in some hard-to-staff agencies.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, said education spending should not tie local districts’ hands and should be targeted wisely.

“The thing that matters is that we create programs that are sustainable,” Dow said.

Top-ranking Democrats have defended their budget plan as fiscally prudent, pointing out that it would leave a projected $1.6 billion in cash reserves at the end of the coming budget year – or 22 percent of state spending.

And Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said spending levels must be increased to fill state government positions that remained vacant for years under her predecessor, former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

“The governor and Democrats have put forward bold but eminently reasonable investments in shared priorities – or at least what should be shared priorities,” Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.

The budget that’s ultimately adopted by the state House will move over to the Senate with just over three weeks remaining in this year’s 60-day session.

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