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Richardson offers budget-balancing plan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Bill Richardson said Saturday his state budget-cutting plan to make up for an estimated $660 million deficit woulld not affect classroom teaching and avoids state worker furloughs and layoffs.

Richardson’s counterproposal to several legislative plans came as New Mexico lawmakers convened a special session on the budget problem.

The Democratic governor appeared to yield at least slightly on his insistence that there should be no cuts to public education.

He recommended a 1.5 percent cut in spending for grades K-12 but said it should not “affect our classrooms, kids and teachers.” He recommended using federal stimulus money to avoid further cuts in education.

Richardson’s proposal also called for cutting state agency spending by 3.5 percent.  The remainder of his savings would come from various budget adjustments.

The governor’s proposal quickly met opposition from the American Federation of Teachers, a teachers’ union that objects to any cuts in public education spending. The union on Saturday called Richardson’s plan “unacceptable.”

While noting he and legislators have agreed there will be no consideration of tax increases to balance the budget in the speciial session, the governor opened the door to consideration of tax increases when the Legislature convenes for its regular session in January.

“He said that he will consider revenue enhancements during the January session as long as they have gone through a review between now and then and can be proven to have a lasting, positive effect on the budget,” a news release from his office said.

Legislators were expected to continue meeting in the special session through the weekend.