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Speaker calls for larger teacher pay hikes

House Speaker Brian Egolf

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

House Speaker Brian Egolf said Wednesday that he will push for a 10% pay raise this year for New Mexico teachers and school personnel – far higher than what’s now proposed in the initial budget packages offered by the governor and a key legislative committee.

The speaker, a Democrat from Santa Fe, said he will also seek changes to the state’s funding formula for schools to allow districts that receive federal “Impact Aid” – usually because of tribal or military lands – to keep the money, instead of having much of it deducted from their state funding.

Egolf’s remarks came during a speech before the Economic Forum of Albuquerque, a nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders.

The changes would be costly. A 10% raise for teachers would cost the state about $147 million a year, according to Legislative Finance Committee documents. A 10% raise for principals would cost an additional $11.8 million.

Nonetheless, Egolf said, teachers and front-line school personnel deserve much better pay, especially as New Mexico tries to fill vacancies in schools and compete with other states for educators.

“It’s an awesome responsibility we place on teachers,” Egolf said Wednesday.

A 10% pay raise is more than twice what’s been proposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislative Finance Committee, a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is proposing a 4% pay raise for teachers. The Legislative Finance Committee has suggested 3%, but with higher increases for bilingual and special education teachers.

Teachers and school administrators received 6% pay raises last year, and lawmakers increased starting teacher pay to $41,000 annually. The changes were part of a plan to address a landmark 2018 court ruling that found New Mexico was failing to provide a sufficient education to all students.

Despite those efforts, some advocacy groups and individuals involved in the lawsuit say that the state has not gone far enough to address the judge’s ruling and that the response plan relied too heavily on teacher pay raises – and not other initiatives aimed at helping low-income students.

The debate over pay raises comes as an oil boom in southeastern New Mexico is pushing state revenue to record levels, making it possible for the state to approve increased spending in a number of areas.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chairman of the LFC, said no one has discussed a 10% increase for teachers with him. He has argued repeatedly that New Mexico should be cautious with new spending, given the volatility in oil and gas revenue.

“That’s a huge amount – whether it’s in teachers or anything else,” Smith said in an interview. “I guess hope springs eternal.”

Agreeing on a final budget plan will be the priority of the 30-day session that begins Jan. 21. Democrats hold majorities in both legislative chambers, though they often have different priorities.

Lujan Grisham has proposed about $7.7 billion in spending next year, an 8% increase over this year. The LFC has proposed $7.5 billion.

Egolf is still working on the details of his proposal for this year. But he said he envisions the proposed 10% increase applying to teachers and employees who work at schools, not high-level administrators at district offices.

The speaker said he also wants to help districts that serve students from tribal, military or other tax-exempt federal lands. They receive federal funding because of the low tax base, but the state deducts much of the money through its funding formula.

As a matter of fairness, Egolf said, he wants districts to be able to keep the federal money.

Among other priorities for the legislative session, Egolf told the Economic Forum that he supports:

• Shaving perhaps half a percentage point off the state’s gross receipts tax rate. The revenue would be made up by eliminating a variety of tax breaks in the tax code. Egolf, however, said he doesn’t support reimposing the tax on food – the biggest tax break on the books.

• Overhauling the Public Regulation Commission by changing the appointment process for some key PRC officials.

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this article.

 


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