New Mexico Lawmakers Approve $1 Billion State Spending Increase | Politics
SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The New Mexico Legislature has approved a record $1 billion annual budget increase that bolsters spending on public schools, Medicaid, public safety initiatives and a range of grants, loans and tax breaks for private industry.
The Senate approved the bill by voice vote on Wednesday with no indication of opposition, approving the general fund spending plan of about $8.48 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1 – a 14% increase compared to current year expenditure.
The spending plan now moves to the office of Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who backs key provisions and can veto any part of the spending plan.
Separately, the state Senate has proposed a half-billion-dollar package of tax refunds, reductions and credits to a landmark debate in the House, as well as a package of fightback initiatives. against crime. The Legislative Assembly has until 12 p.m. Thursday to approve the legislation before adjourning.
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.
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 wave of homicides in Albuquerque, the budget would support new intervention programs aimed at tackling gun violence and boosting state police salaries by nearly 16% — with further increases more important for judges.
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.
Senate lawmakers on Thursday approved a tax relief package in a 39-0 vote that would provide a personal income tax refund of $250 for individuals or $500 for joint filers , at a cost of more than $300 million.
Democratic state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos, a proponent of modest tax relief, warned that such rebates could contribute to inflationary trends.
“This amount … injected into the economy at this point could easily add to the inflationary trends we find ourselves in right now, all at once,” she told a senior Senate budget committee.
The tax relief package would slightly reduce gross receipts taxes on sales and services, eliminate Social Security income taxes for people earning $100,000 or less, and provide a per-child tax credit of up to reach $175 to parents.
A package of crime-fighting initiatives received Senate approval late Wednesday night in a 41-0 vote, sending the bill to the House for consideration.
The initiative includes efforts to expand police training and oversight, with funding for alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration.
New Mexico would overhaul police training and oversight, hire more state district judges, and toughen criminal penalties for threatening judges and for certain felons in possession of a firearm.
Lawmakers have balked at proposals to ban bail for those charged with certain serious crimes. The crime bill instead expands surveillance of defendants while awaiting trial, with round-the-clock monitoring of ankle bracelet tracking devices.
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 teachers’ salaries between 7% and 22%. Salaries could triple for Native American language teachers paid as teaching assistants in many districts.
Lujan Grisham is expected to sign all teacher salary measures.
House members also gave final approval in a 51-17 vote to send a free college bill to the governor. It would allocate $75 million to the “opportunity scholarship” program, providing free tuition and fees to New Mexico residents.
Unlike the existing lottery scholarship, it would be open to adults long after high school graduation and could be used for part-time course loads.
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 break-even concession, a 5% fee may be charged on loans up to $500, and the maximum installment loan size is doubled to $10,000.
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