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          Front Page


January 22, 2003

House Approves 38 Percent Budget Increase For Governor

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE   —   Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson won an early victory in the House on Wednesday.
    Lawmakers voted 57-10 to approve a spending bill that provides an additional $871,700 for the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor for the final six months of the current budget year. The measure headed to the Senate for consideration.
    The extra money for Richardson is to pay for more staff and to open a state office in Washington, D.C.
    Passage of the bill came after the House crushed an effort by some Republicans to redirect the nearly $872,000 away from the governor and instead use it for one-time bonuses for public school teachers.
    "We've decided now that it's more important to fund bureaucrats on the 4th floor" than it is teachers, said Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell.
    The governor's office is on the 4th floor of the Capitol.
    Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, said the GOP proposal would do little for educators, potentially averaging about $43 for each teacher. He said pay raises for teachers should be handled in the overall state budget package.
    Foley said that Richardson was expanding his staff but had recommended that school districts find savings equal to 5 percent of their budgets. The governor wants schools to use the projected savings to help pay for his proposal to boost teacher salaries by 6 percent.
    Democrats rallied in defense of Richardson's budget increase, saying extra staff was needed for the newly elected governor to work on his extensive policy agenda.
    "I think this governor is going to lead from the top," said Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad.
    The legislation, referred to as the "feed bill" in legislative circles, provides:
      —  Nearly $6.9 million for the operations of the Legislature during its 60-day session.
      —  Almost $11.9 million for year-round operations of the Legislature.
      —  $520,000 for upgrades to the fire alarm and security system in the Capitol.
    House GOP Leader Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque objected that the money for the governor was included in what historically has been a budget bill only for legislative operations.
    Typically, supplemental money for an executive branch agency would be part of the overall budget package that lawmakers pass near the end of the session.
    "It's a purely political maneuver," said Hobbs.
    The legislative spending bill usually is the first bill passed by the Legislature because it's needed to pay workers and legislators during the session.
    The measure includes an additional $793,500 for the governor's office   —   a 38 percent increase over its current operating budget   —   and $78,200 for the lieutenant governor's office, a 17.5 percent increase.
    The extra money for Richardson's office is for 10 additional staffers   —   from 27 to 37 full-time jobs   —   and money to open a two-person state of New Mexico office in Washington.