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Governor needs to sign bill restoring school funds

New Mexico’s working families have every right to feel frustrated. More than anything, they want their kids to have the opportunity to be better off than their parents, yet they fear that this dream is slipping away. As New Mexico falls behind, so do our children.

Those of us who have the privilege of serving in the state Legislature, regardless of party label, believe this state of affairs simply cannot continue. That’s why, during the 60-day legislative session, a good number of us worked together in a bipartisan fashion to send Gov. Susana Martinez a package – a package that begins to restore school funding which has been lagging for far too long.

Let’s start with some basic facts:

A 2008 study by the American Institute of Research found New Mexico schools – at that time – were underfunded to the tune of $350 million.

Fast forward to last year. Education funding in New Mexico, when adjusted for inflation, still had not been restored to those pre-recession levels.

So what did the Legislature do to begin addressing this ongoing education funding deficit while also balancing the budget?

Two very different budget proposals were on the table at the close of the first week of the session.

Gov. Martinez wanted to cut $120 million in school funding. What’s more, her proposal would have put the squeeze on 80,000 public employees, including our teachers, dealing them a jaw-dropping 3.5 percent pay cut. If that weren’t bad enough for these working families, this cut would have ended up taking $100 million of spending out of our local economies, thus taking steam out of New Mexico’s already sluggish recovery.

For the Senate, these cuts were unacceptable.

On the second day of the session, the Senate put forward a balanced proposal to tackle the state’s immediate fiscal crisis – an approach that minimized the draconian school cuts Gov. Martinez had proposed.

Acting quickly and in a bipartisan fashion, the Senate worked to protect public schools across the state from $70 million in funding cuts. It rejected the governor’s $100 million state employee pay cut idea. Instead, we balanced the budget without taking money out of the pockets of our teachers, law enforcement officers and nurses.

But the Senate didn’t stop there.

For too long, the executive branch had failed to heed the warnings of our Finance Committee chairman, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. Deteriorating revenues were leading the state toward a budgetary meltdown.

Grown-ups had to take charge. The Senate took an unprecedented step by using half of the Legislature’s capital outlay allocation to shore up the state’s finances. Now if Gov. Martinez will sign Senate Bill 462, our schools can continue to focus on student needs and quality teaching and our state treasurer won’t be faced with the unhappy prospect of having to write hot checks in months ahead.

We understood the necessity of raising new recurring revenue to fund classroom spending for the next fiscal year. Through bipartisan collaboration we were able to pass, by a resounding margin, a budget and revenue package that won the support of a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.

You don’t earn this kind of support without coming to a common understanding of what’s at stake and then working across the aisle to compromise and achieve common goals.

So, for the sake of New Mexico, we simply cannot afford another rerun of the political posturing and drama of the past. Enough of the stale ideological talking points. Dispense with the political consultant’s toxic rhetoric, recycled out of Washington, D.C.

It’s time to restore some sanity. Gov. Martinez should follow the example set by a majority of New Mexico Senate Republicans. We urge her to support the legislature’s balanced revenue and budget package.

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