Nearly $5.1 billion budget package heads to House

By BARRY MASSEY

SANTA FE — A House committee approved a nearly $5.1 billion budget bill Tuesday that leaves money available for tax cuts and saves some of the state’s revenue windfall in a permanent fund.

The bill now goes to the House, which is expected to vote on it later this week.

Under the spending plan approved by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, the state will increase spending by about 8 percent for operations of public schools, colleges and universities and general government programs ranging from prisons to health care for the needy in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“I think this is a good budget,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, deputy chairman of the committee. “We didn’t get all of the initiatives the governor wanted in the bill. But this is the start of the process.”

Gov. Bill Richardson said he was a “little concerned” that the measure didn’t fund his health insurance initiative for children and didn’t provide as much money as he had requested for several programs, such as physical education and school breakfasts for elementary students.

“I want to be sure that legislators consider this the year of the child and not the year of the porker,” Richardson said. Pork is a term often used for “pork barrel” spending in which lawmakers designate money for projects in their home districts.

The measure will go to the Senate after it clears the House.
Key provisions of the bill:

• 5 percent pay raises for teachers and other public school workers. The governor had proposed 6 percent increases for teachers and other certified personnel such as nurses and librarians, and 4 percent pay raises for non-certified school and transportation workers.

• 4.5 percent raises faculty and employees at colleges and universities.

•10 percent raises for state police officers, motor transportation division officers and special investigation division officers in the Department of Public Safety. The higher pay is to help recruit and retain officers.

• Raises averaging 5 percent for state employees. Classified workers would receive 2 percent increases plus an additional amount up to 4.5 percent for employees in the lower range of pay scales.

• 7.4 percent salary increases for judges and magistrates.

• 8 percent pay raises for probation and parole officers in the Department of Corrections.

Public schools account for almost half of the proposed spending from the state’s general budget account.