- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Only new teachers and state police officers can expect pay raises in the next fiscal year as New Mexico lawmakers get closer to hammering out a spending plan in the face of declining revenues due to falling oil prices.

Most department budgets remain largely flat under the House Appropriations and Finance Committee scenarios that will become part of a budget bill members are scheduled to vote on Friday.

Still, the beleaguered Children, Youth and Families Department will get an additional $8 million to spend on early childhood and juvenile justice initiatives. As expected, K-12 schools get the lion’s share of increase in spending in next year’s budget proposal.

Both Gov. Susana Martinez and lawmakers have highlighted education as a priority in a state with some of the lowest performing schools in the nation.

Public schools will see a $37 million bump in money in the fiscal year starting July 1, which represents 44 percent of the more than $80 million in new revenues expected to come into the state’s general fund budget of $6.2 billion, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The most recent projections left lawmakers with $60 million less in new revenue than anticipated.

In more than two dozen votes, the House committee agreed to all budget scenarios before it earlier this week, siding on most items with the lower of the increases proposed by the legislative or the executive branch. Some highlights:

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EDUCATION:

Public schools will be allocated more than $2.7 billion from the general fund. The amount represents a 1.3 percent increase over current spending, and at 44 percent, is by far the biggest chunk of the state’s budget plan. 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 $12.2 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.

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CHILD WELFARE AND SAFETY:

Children, Youth and Families Department will see an $8 million or 3.5 percent increase in funding for early childhood programs and to help the agency deal with an increasing caseload. Two pilot child advocacy centers would be established, along with other family support service sites, and 45 more social workers would be hired.

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CRIMINAL DEFENSE:

Public defender’s offices will get a bump of nearly $4 million, an 8.3 percent increase over current year spending to help pay for court ordered attorney services assigned to represent people other than indigents.

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CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT:

The state Corrections Department would get more than $10 million in additional money - a nearly 4 percent increase over the current year - to deal with an increasing prison population and management of community offender programs.

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PUBLIC SAFETY:

The Department of Public Safety will get $7 million more - a 6.4 percent increase - over last year for a total of $116.1 million. More than $3 million of the new money would go toward 5 percent pay increases for state police officers.

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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

While the increase from the general fund for job training programs is $1.5 million, another $5.5 million will be added from prior year surplus. Another $500,000 would go toward New Mexico MainStreet initiatives. Overall spending for economic development rises to $9.4 million. An additional $35 million will be transferred from general fund surplus and other funds to attract businesses through the Local Economic Development Act.

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TOURISM:

Tourism spending gets a $1.3 million boost or a 12.2 percent increase over current levels for a total $13.8 million in spending to continue successful efforts to market the state.

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HEALTH CARE:

The general fund appropriation for Medicaid remains flat at $907 million.

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WHAT’S NEXT:

An approved committee bill will form the basis of all future discussions and votes in the House and the Senate. Adopting a budget is a must-do assignment for lawmakers before the next fiscal year begins but generally is accomplished by the end of the legislative session.


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