- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday unveiled a nearly $6.3 billion spending plan for growing New Mexico’s economy and expanding education initiatives, but her administration echoed the warning of lawmakers that falling oil prices could keep chipping away at the money the state has to spend.

Martinez detailed her plan during a visit to Dona Ana Elementary School in Las Cruces. It includes an additional $68 million for raising the minimum salary for new teachers, expanding early childhood education initiatives and meeting other public school needs.

Martinez acknowledged the volatility of oil prices but said other sources of revenue, such as corporate and gross receipt taxes, are trending upward. She said another revenue forecast was expected in a few weeks.

“Regardless of what we ultimately have to spend,” Martinez said in her prepared remarks, “it will be invested wisely, responsibly and on initiatives that will create jobs, grow our economy, and better educate our children.”

The governor’s priorities are not much different from lawmakers, who released their budget recommendations last week. In their plan, more than half of new revenues were targeted at education.

Some highlights of Martinez’s spending plan:

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EDUCATION:

More than $2.7 billion in general funds would be spent on education. That amounts to a 2.5 percent increase over current spending levels. More than $43 million would help pay for the state’s prekindergarten program and expansion of the school year for kindergarten through third-grade students as part of an effort to close the achievement gap in literacy and math. Another $11.5 million would go toward initiatives to raise the starting salary for new teachers by $2,000, a debit card program for teachers to buy classroom supplies and a mentorship program to turn low-performing schools around. The recommendation also includes $6.5 million for the lottery scholarship program, which would allow students to receive about 95 percent of their tuition costs for the next three semesters.

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CHILD WELFARE AND SAFETY:

An additional $9.6 million would go toward the state Children, Youth and Families Department’s Protective Services Division to help the agency deal with an increasing caseload. Seven new child advocacy centers would be established along with other family support programs, and more social workers would be hired. Part of the spending on social services would complete a database that would allow law enforcement and state child welfare officials to better communicate and share information about cases.

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HEALTH CARE:

Nearly $34 million is included for Medicaid, which provides health care for the needy. The governor’s office said enrollment continues to exceed projections and more than 785,000 people are likely to be on the rolls by the end of June. An additional $1 million would expand behavioral health services, and funds are included to develop a statewide crisis hotline and expand non-Medicaid behavior health services for veterans.

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PUBLIC SAFETY:

The state Corrections Department would get more than $10 million in general funds to deal with an increasing prison population and management of community offender programs. Another $10 million would pay for the second year of a three-year effort by the state Department of Public Safety to improve recruitment and retention of officers.

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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

The governor’s recommendation includes $50 million - from general funds and severance tax bonds - to support infrastructure development that New Mexico communities could use to attract businesses and $5.5 million for the state’s job training incentive program, which funds classroom and on-the-job training for newly-created jobs. The governor also plans to push for tax credits for businesses that choose to locate in Main Street districts and downtown areas.

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