Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The House voted decisively Wednesday to endorse a $7.4 billion budget plan that would boost New Mexico spending to near pre-pandemic levels, giving bipartisan backing to a bill that now advances to the Senate.
The bill, which passed 60-10, provides state funds to extend the school year by at least 10 days, repair highways around New Mexico and give modest pay raises to teachers and other state workers.
Overall, it would boost state spending for the fiscal year that starts in July by $332 million – or 4.6% – over this year’s levels, which had to be pared back due to pandemic-related revenue declines.
“This budget represents a clear framework for our state’s recovery that is forward-looking, and helps families and small businesses get back on their feet,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
The 10 “no” votes against the budget bill, House Bill 2, were all cast by GOP lawmakers, including House Minority Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington.
However, the spending plan won the support of 14 House Republicans and the chamber’s lone independent – Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell. That marked a departure from recent years, when budget bills passed the Democratic-controlled House on party-line votes.
“I think this is a governing-based budget, and I appreciate that,” said Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, referring to the small number of new initiatives funded by the budget bill.
Under the budget plan approved Wednesday, lawmakers would use about $1 billion of the state’s $2.7 billion in projected cash reserves for one-time spending.
That includes $300 million for road repair and construction around New Mexico and, in separate bills, more than $400 million in pandemic relief in the form of business grants, worker assistance and other financial aid programs.
In addition, a separate bill being crafted in the Senate would authorize $30 million for broadband improvements and $325 million to replenish the state’s nearly depleted unemployment fund.
Meanwhile, the budget plan would authorize spending $64 million to provide 1.5% pay raises – or cost-of-living adjustments – for state employees, teachers and higher education workers. New Mexico judges would get 3.5% raises.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not immediately weigh in on the budget plan approved Wednesday, although she did not include across-the-board pay increases in a budget recommendation released last month.
Several spending initiatives that were proposed by the first-term Democratic governor were not fully funded under the spending plan, including a request for $25 million in additional funding for a New Mexico tourism marketing initiative.
In its current form, the budget would appropriate an extra $5 million – not $25 million – for such an effort.
Both the House and Senate have to sign off on the same version of the budget bill to send it to the governor’s desk before the 60-day session ends March 20.