The Senate Finance Committee voted 9-0 this afternoon to approve a $6.2 billion budget that would increase state spending for the third consecutive year.
In all, the budget bill would allow state spending to go up by $293 million — or 5 percent — from this year’s spending levels.
The Senate version of the budget bill came about after a House-drafted spending plan stalled last week.
Under the proposal unveiled today following several days of behind-the-scenes budget talks, spending for education initiatives administered by the Public Education Department would increase by $17.5 million from the House-drafted bill.
That includes $7.25 million for teacher training and retention programs, including the controversial concept of merit-based pay. However, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said it would be up to school districts to decide whether they wanted to participate in the program. In addition, not all the $7.25 million could be spent on merit pay, according to Senate Democrats.
Smith told reporters after today’s committee vote he’s optimistic the budget bill can gain approval in both the House and Senate by Thursday, the final day of the 30-day legislative session.
“We’re working against time, but time can also be your friend,” Smith said. “The last thing I want is a special session.”
The budget now advances to the Senate floor, where it could be voted on by as soon as Monday night.