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Governor won’t veto pay raises

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez, who is still weighing a $6.2 billion state budget for next year, said she will not use her veto pen to delete pay raises for state employees and teachers.

The across-the-board salary increases approved by the Legislature, averaging about 3 percent, would be the largest wage hikes received by state workers since 2008.

Before this year’s 30-day legislative session began, Martinez proposed targeted pay raises for only about one-third of the state’s workforce.

However, the Republican governor told reporters this week that she does not intend to use her line-item veto authority to strike down the increases approved by lawmakers, which are projected to cost the state more than $90 million annually.

“All teachers will get their 3 percent, and classified employees at the state will receive their 3 percent,” she said after a news conference in Santa Fe. “I don’t intend to disrupt the classified employees in any way.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said he was not surprised that Martinez would leave the pay increases intact.

“We weren’t trying to put something in there that would have the consequence of her not signing (the budget),” Smith told the Journal.

In addition to the base wage hike, some state employees could receive even larger salary increases during the coming fiscal year – starting July 1 – under the budget bill that legislators sent to the governor’s desk.

State Police, social workers and judges are among those who would get pay raises in excess of 3 percent.

Martinez has until March 12 to act on the budget and on other measures passed during the recent session’s final days. She previously indicated she will sign the budget, but will likely line-item veto certain spending provisions.

The governor said this week that she does not expect to take action on the spending bill until close to the deadline. In all, the budget would increase total state spending by about $293 million – or roughly 5 percent – from this year’s levels.

“We’re going line by line by line,” said Martinez, who added that she is also carefully reviewing language in the budget bill. “Everything matters.”

Meanwhile, the governor signed 11 other bills Thursday, bringing the total number of bills she has signed to 29. Martinez has not vetoed a bill this year.

Lawmakers approved 91 bills during this year’s legislative session, which means more than 60 bills await final action.

Among the bills signed Thursday was legislation that will provide a tax break for the sale of aircraft parts and aircraft repair work. Most neighboring states already have such incentives in place, and backers of the legislation say it will make New Mexico more competitive and keep pilots from traveling out of state to have their planes serviced.

“By signing today’s bill, we are able to level the playing field with other states so we can keep aviation business here,” Martinez said in a statement, after a ceremonial bill signing in Santa Teresa in southern New Mexico.

She said at least one company, Santa Fe Aero Services, plans to expand its New Mexico operations because of the legislation.

The measure, which will cost the state and local governments an estimated $490,000 next year in forgone tax revenue, was sponsored during this year’s legislative session by Rep. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

It will take effect July 1.