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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

State Spending Increase of 5% Goes to Gov.

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE State spending would increase by nearly 5 percent next year under a $4.1 billion budget package approved by lawmakers on Tuesday and sent to Gov. Bill Richardson.
    The House and Senate, on voice votes, gave final approval to two measures to pay for public schools, higher education and general government operations in the budget year that starts July 1. Some agencies and programs also will receive extra monies for the current fiscal year.
    The final versions of the budget bills were developed by a six-member legislative negotiating committee. However, the compromise package changed overall spending levels very little.
    Among the final additions to the budget, for example, was authority for the governor to have four staff positions for his homeland security office.
    The main budget provides for a nearly $192 million increase in spending on public education and general government next year, or 4.9 percent.
    A second measure allocates an additional $25 million for programs, services and agencies next year and about $50 million this year, including some for the governor's initiatives.
    Public schools account for the largest portion of spending from the state's general budget account.
    The main budget bill will provide for a $75.6 million increase in spending, about 4.2 percent, for public schools, the Department of Education and other educational programs next year.
    The measure provides for 6 percent pay increases for public school teachers and instructional personnel, which includes librarians and counselors, starting in December. The pay raise was one of Richardson's main public school initiatives.
    School districts must use part of their cash reserves to help cover budget increases next year and reallocate 1 percent of their budgets to classroom expenses. Richardson advocated the provisions to require schools to dip into their existing funds to cover next year's budget increases.
    To help balance the proposed spending with anticipated revenues, lawmakers are assuming approval of several measures to generate an additional $107 million for the state next year: an insurance tax change involving Medicaid payments, an increase in the state cigarette tax, a constitutional amendment to increase the annual distribution of income from a state permanent fund and making the full yearly allotment of tobacco settlement revenues available for general budget spending.