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Saturday, March 22, 2003

Gov. Signs $4.1 Billion Spending Plan

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson on Friday approved a $4.1 billion state budget bill but also used his line-item veto authority to trim spending.
    James Jimenez, secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, said line-item vetoes would total about $7 million from the budget measure (committee substitute for HB 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9) and a $70 million supplemental spending measure (committee substitute for SB 655). Richardson is expected to use his line-item vetoes on the supplemental spending measure today.
    The budget bill represented the most critical piece of legislation for lawmakers to address before adjourning their 60-day session at noon today.
    Richardson, who took office in January, described his first legislative session as governor as "extremely successful."
    "That victory starts with a balanced budget that takes care of the needs of our citizens," Richardson said at a Capitol news conference.
    Earlier this week, Richardson had threatened to veto the budget measure if lawmakers did not approve revenue-enhancing bills to raise the cigarette tax by 70 cents a pack (committee substitute for SB 804, 336, 717 and 835) and free up more tobacco settlement revenues for general government spending (SB 298).
    Since then, legislators sent Richardson both measures, which he said he will sign. The cigarette tax bill is expected to generate an estimated $47 million a year in revenues to the state.
    The other measure would divert New Mexico's estimated annual $40 million in tobacco settlement revenues to the state's general fund for the next four budget years. Half of the money currently goes into an interest-earning permanent fund, while the other half goes to health care and education programs.
    The Democratic governor said legislative approval of several education reform measures marked his most significant accomplishment of the session.
    Those measures included 6 percent pay raises for teachers and a three-level teacher licensing system (HB 212) with minimum annual salaries of $30,000, $40,000 and $50,000. Other measures included proposed constitutional amendments to create a governor-appointed secretary of education (committee substitute for SJR 2, 5, 12 and 21) and to take more income from a permanent fund to pay for school reforms (floor substitute for SJR 6).
    "I think the education reform is the signature accomplishment of the session," Richardson said.
    Richardson also listed passage of the following measures among his biggest accomplishments of the legislative session:
   
  • A bill to slash the state's income tax and capital gains tax by nearly $360 million over the next five years (committee substitute for HB 167 and SB 167);
       
  • Legislation to toughen penalties and require treatment for repeat DWI offenders (committee substitute for HB 117);
       
  • And a statewide water plan (committee substitute for SB 195).