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Legislature Sends $4.7 Billion Budget to Governor

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— Legislators on Sunday approved a nearly $4.7 billion state budget that does not include room for tax cuts sought by Gov. Bill Richardson or as much money as the governor is seeking for a proposed pre-kindergarten program.
    The compromise budget measure (committee substitute for HB 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 48) heads to Richardson for consideration.
    The Democratic governor has said he would not sign a budget measure if it did not include room for tax cuts or more money for his voluntary pre-kindergarten proposal. The governor's office declined to comment on the approved budget Sunday night.
    A House-Senate conference committee negotiated for several days before finalizing the compromise bill.
    The House and Senate approved the bill on voice votes without debate.
    Budget negotiators added about $4 million in recurring spending to the spending plan, including $2.8 million to provide 1.75 percent pay raises for most state employees. The original spending plan included 1.25 percent raises for those workers.
    The compromise budget measure also contains more money for public schools, including funds to raise the minimum annual salary for educational assistants from $11,000 to $12,000.
    Rep. Henry "Kiki" Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, who is chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said the $4.66 billion budget measure and a $33 million supplemental spending plan (committee substitute for SB 190) represent a "complete, balanced budget."
    The Senate approved a compromise version of the companion spending measure on a voice vote. The supplemental budget bill heads to the House for consideration.
    Saavedra and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the main budget measure does not include any room for tax cuts.
    Richardson is pushing for more than $30 million in tax cuts, including tax breaks for single parents and low- and middle-income taxpayers.
    He also wants $9 million in recurring spending for the first year of a pre-kindergarten program. The compromise budget measure includes $4 million in nonrecurring funds for the program, while the supplemental spending bill has another $1 million in nonrecurring funds.
    The supplemental budget bill also includes $1.5 million for a physical education program in public elementary schools, $500,000 for an initiative to combat gangs and $500,000 for an anti-truancy program.
    The governor backs those programs, and Smith said the supplemental spending measure included $8 million for Richardson-backed initiatives.
    "The conference committee was trying to accommodate the executive branch on additional requests," Smith said.
    General fund spending for state government operations in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, would increase by $283.9 million, or 6.5 percent, over current spending levels under the main budget measure.
    The main budget measure:
    -- In addition to 1.75 percent pay raises for most state employees, it provides 5 percent raises for district attorneys, public defenders, State Police, motor transportation officers and employees of the Special Investigations Division. Employees at public colleges and universities would receive a 2 percent pay raise;
    -- Includes $2.1 billion for public schools, an increase of about $132 million, or 6.7 percent;
    -- Increases salaries for public school teachers with middle- and top-level experience to a $40,000 minimum under the next phase of a three-level teacher licensing system;
    -- Gives a 1.25 percent pay raise to public school employees not eligible for the higher salary;
    -- Increases Medicaid spending by $80 million, or 16 percent;
    -- Includes $400,000 for a proposed Cabinet-level state Department of Higher Education.