New Mexico Lawmakers Approve $1 Billion State Spending Increase | National policy

New Mexico Lawmakers Approve $1 Billion State Spending Increase |  National policy

By MORGAN LEE and CEDAR ATTANASIO – Associated Press

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The New Mexico Legislature on Wednesday approved a record $1 billion annual budget increase to bolster spending on public schools, Medicaid, public safety initiatives and a range of grants, loans and tax breaks to private industry.

The Senate approved by voice vote with no indication of opposition approving a general fund spending plan of approximately $8.48 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, a 14% increase over expenses for the current year.

The bill has now moved to the office of Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who backs key provisions and can veto any part of the spending plan.

The budget relies on a windfall of state government revenue from increased oil production and federal pandemic assistance.

Wage increases of at least 7% are planned for school district and state government staff statewide, with a minimum hourly wage of $15 for public employees and higher base salaries for teachers.

Annual K-12 public education spending would increase by $425 million to $3.87 billion, a 12% increase. Annual Medicaid spending would rise by about $240 million to $1.3 billion as the federal government ends pandemic-related subsidies to the program that provides free health care to the poor.

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In a state with high poverty rates, the proposal extends free tuition to most New Mexico residents pursuing two- and four-year degrees, and it fully funds home care for thousands of people with severe disabilities since childhood.

Amid a record spate of homicides in Albuquerque, the budget would support new intervention programs aimed at combating gun violence and boosting state police salaries by nearly 16% — with further increases more important for judges.

Democratic state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, the House’s lead budget negotiator, said the bill secures funding to help local police departments offer their own competitive salaries.

Lawmakers extended pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage a year after birth, up from two months before, by spending $14 million. Most births in New Mexico are covered by Medicaid.

The budget bill funds an initiative by the governor to create a film industry training academy operated by a consortium of existing state colleges and universities. It is also providing $650,000 to found an office of climate change as the state expands regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Lawmakers were still racing against time to agree on a package of tax cuts. A new provision emerged Thursday that would provide a personal income tax refund of $250 for individuals or $500 for joint filers, at a cost of at least $337 million.

Democratic state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos, a proponent of modest tax relief, warned that such rebates could contribute to inflationary trends.

“We are going into an inflationary spiral – you might say – spiral,” she told the senior Senate budget committee. now, suddenly.

Other elements of an evolving tax relief bill would slightly reduce gross receipts taxes on sales and services, eliminate Social Security income taxes for those earning $100,000 or less and would offer a per-child tax credit of up to $175 to parents. The Legislature automatically adjourns at noon Thursday.

The Legislative Assembly also moved closer to final approval of a package of tough-on-crime initiatives that would expand surveillance of defendants awaiting trial, with round-the-clock monitoring of wristband tracking devices. of ankle.

Lawmakers have balked at proposals to ban bail for those charged with certain serious crimes. They focused on efforts to expand police training and oversight, with funding for alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration. Some enhanced criminal sanctions are possible.

Time was running out to strengthen election oversight, expand access to the vote and protect election workers from harassment, after fragmented proposals were combined into a single bill.

On teacher compensation, lawmakers approved a measure allowing native language teachers to be paid at the same rate as their peers, even if they don’t have an undergraduate degree. Bills sent to the governor earlier this week would raise teacher salaries between 7% and 22%. For Native American language teachers paid as teaching assistants in many districts, their salaries could triple.

Lujan Grisham is expected to sign off on all teacher salary measures.

As part of consumer protection efforts, lawmakers sent the governor’s office Wednesday a bill that caps annual interest rates on storefront loans at 36%, up from 175%.

In a concession to profitability, a 5% fee may be charged on loans up to $500, and the maximum size of an installment loan is doubled to $10,000.

In a statement, Lujan Grisham signaled his support for the legislation.

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Amanda P. Whitten