- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) - Gov. Susana Martinez signed a $6 billion state budget on Tuesday, but she eliminated pay raises for judges, district attorneys and appointed government workers.

Martinez cut spending about $27 million with line-item vetoes, including $2.4 million that lawmakers had provided for 8 percent salary increases for judges and district attorneys and about 3 percent raises for workers in appointed government positions.

The governor approved money that will provide an average of 3 percent salary increases for rank-and-file state employees - in classified jobs with civil service protections - as well as public school workers. Some state employees will receive larger increases, including state police, prison guards and social workers who handle child-abuse cases.

Entry-level teachers also will get larger pay raises because the measure provides money to boost their minimum salaries to $32,000 from $30,000 for a nine-month contract.

The governor vetoed a provision that would have required school districts to raise minimum salaries for other teachers by $2,000 - to $42,000 for a “level two” teacher and $52,000 for a “level three” teacher. However, school districts still have the option of giving the increases because the governor eliminated only the language mandating the raises. The money for the higher minimum salaries remains in the budget and will flow to schools as part of about $2.5 billion that is distributed through New Mexico’s school-funding formula. Districts have flexibility to decide how to spend state aid they receive through the formula.

The governor said judges are among the highest-paid state employees and the proposed 8 percent increase was too much.

“I could have supported a 3 percent salary increase like all other employees,” Martinez said. “But the way it was written, they gave me two choices - no increase or an 8 percent increase. And teachers were only getting a 3 percent increase. Teachers don’t make anywhere near what a judge makes.”

District judges earn $112,747 a year. A Supreme Court justice is paid $124,927, and the chief justice receives $126,927.

Administrative Office of the Courts Director Artie Pepin said the agency is reviewing the governor’s veto, which left about $1 million in court operating budgets that lawmakers had included for 5 percent salary increases. Martinez vetoed a separate provision that establishes the yearly salary for judges and contained money for 3 percent raises. The governor’s office contends that judges will receive no increase because of the veto of the salary language that reflected an 8 percent raise.

The budget, as signed by the governor, provides for a 4.3 percent or $252 million spending increase in the fiscal year starting in July. The Legislature had approved a nearly 5 percent increase.

The governor said she trimmed spending because the Democratic-controlled Legislature had spent nearly all available new revenue for next year and tapped into the state’s cash reserves to pay for one-item projects and programs.

Money that is vetoed will help replenish cash balances. The governor estimated reserves would be equal to nearly 7.5 percent of spending at the end of the next fiscal year.

The governor vetoed $15 million for public schools because she said the money wasn’t needed until 2016 when newly enacted changes in the school-funding formula take effect. The money was to help schools with students at risk of dropping out.

The governor also vetoed $4 million for a college endowment fund. Lawmakers didn’t overhaul the fund as requested by Martinez to make colleges compete for the money and target it to recruiting professors in critical areas such as math and science.

Public schools account for the largest share of the budget - about $2.7 billion, or a 5.7 percent increase over current spending.


Associated Press writer Barry Massey reported from Santa Fe, N.M.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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