New Mexico governor seeks $800 million spending increase
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed a roughly half-billion dollar increase to annual spending on public education on Thursday in an effort to overhaul the state’s struggling school system and respond to lawsuits by parents and school districts.
The budget proposal from the newly inaugurated Democrat would increase annual general fund spending by 13 percent, from $6.3 billion to $7.1 billion, for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Legislature convenes next week to craft a budget amid a windfall in state government income linked to booming oil and natural gas production in the state’s southeast corner.
The governor’s proposal includes pay raises across public schools and state government, and represents a sharp departure from austere budgeting by her Republican predecessor. Public-school and state jobs would pay at least $12 an hour.
Here is a glance at major proposed budget provisions:
Sixty percent of the governor’s proposed spending increase would go toward public education.
Starting salaries for teachers would rise. All teachers, principals and staff would be in line for a six percent bump in pay.
The plan also directs $113 million in new spending toward the education of students from low-income and minority families and those learning English as a second language or living with disabilities.
Money would be set aside to add 25 days to the school year for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at most schools. All schools would receive funding for an additional three school days to extend learning time.
Lujan Grisham campaigned on pledges to pursue universal access to preschool, and her first budget draft sets aside $60 million toward the effort. The goal is 80 percent enrollment within five years.
The governor also has promised to tap into the state’s multibillion-dollar Land Grand Permanent Fund to underwrite early childhood education. That would require legislative approval and a statewide referendum.
The budget also sets money for bilingual and multicultural education, in particular for the Native American population.
New Mexico’s protective services system for abused or neglected children has struggled to keep pace with high rates of mistreatment, amid a string of high-profile child killings.
The governor’s budget proposal adds 102 staff positions to the protective services division. State spending at the Children, Youth and Families Department would increase by $36 million. More money would go toward a Health Department program that helps parents care for infants and toddlers.
State government workers would receive a pay increase of between 4 percent, for those making under $25,000, and 2 percent, for salaries over $50,000.
Lujan Grisham wants to increase the state contribution to employee pensions by half a percentage point. Mounting unfunded pension obligations for teachers and public employees in New Mexico have led to downgrades in the credit rating for the state and the city of Albuquerque that increase borrowing costs.
The governor’s budget plan aims to set aside $1.8 billion in reserves — a cushion to insulate the state from future recessions or slumps in the oil sector.