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Martinez signs budget, pay hike

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law Friday a $5.9 billion budget that will — starting in July — increase state spending for the second straight year and give state employees and educators their first pay raise since 2008.

Martinez previously threatened to veto the spending plan approved by legislators but signed it despite saying on Friday that it shortchanges some education and economic development initiatives she sought.

The shortchanged initiatives included a proposed merit-based teacher pay program and more money for tax incentives to offset the cost of training new private-sector employees, the Republican governor said.

However, Martinez described the budget as being fundamentally sound and noted it leaves more than $600 million available in cash reserves.

“Despite its numerous flaws, I am pleased that this budget honors our important commitment to ensure that spending increases at a responsible level,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

Martinez also signed a $270 million package of capital outlay, or public works, projects on Friday, her final day to act on legislation from the 60-day legislative session that ended March 16.

Work on most of the public works projects can begin as soon as bonds to finance them are issued.

At a glance
The budget signed into law Friday by Gov. Susana Martinez approves nearly $5.9 billion in state spending for the coming fiscal year. Here are some highlights:
Total spending — $235 million increase (4.2 percent)
Public schools — $112 million increase (4.6 percent)
Higher education — $32.5 million increase (4.3 percent)
Medicaid — $24.7 million increase (2.9 percent)
Prisons — $4.2 million increase (1.6 percent)

The budget will increase state spending by about $235 million, or roughly 4.2 percent, from this year’s levels. Nearly half of the increased funding is for K-12 public schools.

Pay raise

The budget includes a 1 percent pay hike for state employees, including educators, and a 4 percent salary increase for certain law enforcement officers.

Martinez told reporters Friday that the Legislature’s approval of corporate tax reductions she sought paved the way for her acceptance of the employee raises.

“We felt that if we bring in better jobs, higher-paying jobs, that we’re able to then give that 1 percent,” Martinez said. “I know it was a small percentage, but every penny counts when people are struggling.”

Although the pay hikes could be offset by higher insurance premiums for state workers, they will provide an employee earning $50,000 annually with an extra $500 a year in pay. That amounts to roughly $20 in additional pay for each two-week pay period.

Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, vice chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, said he was pleased Martinez left the pay raises intact.

“I was a little concerned she was going to veto the pay raises, but she didn’t,” he said.

Budget vetoes

Varela also said he was reviewing Martinez’s line-item vetoes to determine whether any of them distorted the Legislature’s intent. Democratic lawmakers went to court to successfully challenge some of Martinez’s line-item vetoes on the budget bill in 2011, and that could happen again this year if any of the vetoes are deemed to be overreaching, he told the Journal.

In total, Martinez’s line-item vetoes axed nearly $23 million from the budget bill approved this year by the Legislature, though most of that money was one-time spending.

For instance, Martinez’s largest line-item veto struck down $20 million that lawmakers had appropriated for a statewide higher education endowment fund, which has been used in the past to help pay professors’ salaries.

Martinez said there is little accountability for spending from the endowment fund and suggested the money could instead be used to help the state absorb federal budget cuts.

Some of Martinez’s line-item vetoes — there were about 100 in all — deleted language that called for state agencies to consult with the Legislature on budget issues.

Other line-item vetoes targeted budgetary earmarks for regional projects, such as $75,000 for ambulances in Mora County and $50,000 for educational programs at the Placitas and Edgewood public libraries.

Martinez criticized legislators in her executive message on the budget for inserting the regional appropriations, saying, “regardless of the form, these earmarks can be constitutionally objectionable, and they tend to receive less scrutiny and vetting than the programs and expenditures that are made throughout the rest of the budget.”

Capital outlay vetoes

The governor’s line-item vetoes on the statewide public works package, backed by severance tax bonds, were less sweeping than a year ago, when she slashed nearly 200 projects worth $23 million.

Martinez said improved communication between her office, legislators and local governments on pressing infrastructure needs led to fewer vetoes this year.

In total, Martinez used her line-item veto authority to fully or partly delete 76 projects from the capital outlay measure this year, totaling about $4.4 million.

The vetoed severance tax bonding projects include:

  • $185,000 to install new solar panels on the state Capitol.
  • $127,850 for new computer monitors at the Albuquerque-based 2nd Judicial District Court.
  • $75,000 to design and install arches on the eastern stretch of Central Avenue in Albuquerque.
  • $90,000 to purchase trees for the Dixon apple orchard, which was devastated by wildfires and flooding in 2011.
  • $75,000 to expand and improve the practice facilities at the University of New Mexico’s south golf course.

Journal staff writer James Monteleone contributed to this report.