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House GOP releases alternative budget plan

House Republicans speak during a Wednesday news conference about their alternative budget plan, which they described as the “People’s Budget.” The GOP plan features lower spending levels than a Democratic-backed budget bill. (Dan Boyd/Journal)

SANTA FE — With the New Mexico House set to vote today on a Democratic-backed $7.6 billion budget bill, House Republicans have unveiled an alternative spending plan of their own.

The so-called “People’s Budget” calls for less recurring spending than the Democratic-backed proposal, as it would authorize nearly $7.4 billion in spending — a 4.3% increase over current levels.

The Democratic-backed budget plan, House Bill 2, would increase year-over-year spending by roughly 7.6% over current levels.

“We are terrified about the spending levels that are being proposed” in the main budget plan,  said Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho.

Under the House GOP budget proposal, roughly $400 million from the state’s budget surplus would be returned to taxpayers in the form of rebates. Each New Mexico resident would receive $200 under the plan.

It would also authorize 5% salary increases for teachers — the same level as in the Democratic-backed plan — and 2% raises for state employees.

However, funding levels for state agencies would otherwise be kept flat and no funding would be approved for an early childhood endowment fund proposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The competing budget plan is expected to be officially proposed during today’s House floor debate.

But with Democrats currently holding a 46-24 advantage in the chamber, it’s unlikely to be adopted.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, earlier this week described Republican criticism of the main budget plan as a “red herring” and said GOP lawmakers were actually closely involved in crafting the spending plan.

But GOP lawmakers said during a news conference they’ve been consistently concerned that increasing state spending by $1.3 billion over the last two years — as proposed by the Democratic-backed plan — could set up the state for future budget cuts if oil production levels decrease.

“We have a spending problem here in Santa Fe,” said House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.

New Mexico’s recent spending increase has been fueled by rising revenue levels, due primarily to an oil production boom in the state’s southeast corner.

It follows several years of budgetary belt-tightening prompted by an economic downturn. The downturn forced lawmakers to enact spending cuts, deplete cash reserves and sweep dollars from various state programs.

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