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NM budget bill taking shape; set to be voted on Friday

A $6.3 billion state spending plan for next year that is being pieced together in a New Mexico House committee will feature more money for K-12 public schools but flat budgets for many state agencies, the committee’s chairman said today.

The budget bill will likely be unveiled and voted on Friday in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, the panel’s chairman.

If approved, it could then be considered on the House floor next week and sent on to the Senate with several weeks remaining in the legislative session that ends March 21.

With projected revenue levels for the coming year having been pared back due to plunging oil prices, the overall spending increase will likely be smaller than it has been in recent years.

“The numbers changing as late as they did have caused us some problems,” Larrañaga told the Journal. “There are some agencies that are looking pretty flat (financially) right now.”

Legislators found out earlier this month that they will have an estimated $83 million in “new” money to spend in the coming budget year. New money is the difference between funds available to be spent next year and current spending levels.

The drop in oil prices had already caused revenue projections for the coming budget year to be scaled back twice before — new money for next year was projected to be $141 million in December and had been pegged at $285 million last summer.

With a smaller pot of money likely available for the budget year that begins July 1, spending on new initiatives will likely be limited.

Meanwhile, K-12 public school spending, which makes up 44 percent of the current year state budget, could be a sticking point again this year, as it was during last year’s budget debate.

Some Democratic lawmakers have objected to Gov. Susana Martinez’s push, backed by House Republicans, to spend more money on targeted educational programs — such as stipends for certain teachers — that are controlled by the state, not local school districts.

“I’m afraid the education part (of the budget) will make it non-bipartisan,” Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, the committee’s deputy chairman, said today of the upcoming budget debate.

In the New Mexico Legislature, the state spending bill typically originates in the House before advancing to the Senate. Lawmakers are required to approve a balanced budget annually.