Governor signs state budget, vetoes $2 million

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez agreed Friday with most of the budget handiwork of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, signing a $5.6 billion spending blueprint that will boost the take-home pay for educators and state workers.

Although signing the measure into law, the governor trimmed about $2 million — a tiny sliver of the overall budget — by vetoing line-item allocations of money.

Among the cuts:

• $75,000 that lawmakers earmarked to promote “adventure tourism” in McKinley County.

• $50,000 for “salary adjustments” for Northern New Mexico College faculty.

• $75,000 to update data from a school funding formula study.

• $100,000 for a program at Eastern New Mexico University to help public school students build robots and to stage a robot competition.

The budget allocates $5.6 billion out of the state’s main financial account for public education, colleges and government programs in the fiscal year starting July 1. That represents a $219 million, or 4 percent, increase over this year.

The budget provides nearly $50 million for higher government payments into public employee pensions. That allows worker contributions to drop by 1.75 percent, which will translate into higher take-home pay for state workers for the first time in four years since New Mexico began struggling with budget shortfalls because of economic problems.

However, the budget doesn’t provide for a direct salary increase for state workers. Local school districts make the decision whether to offer pay increases to teachers, principals and other employees but the Legislature earmarked no money for that in the $2.4 billion allocation of state aid for school operations next year.

“This budget embraces the core priorities of reforming our education system to ensure that our children can read and succeed, investing in efforts to grow businesses and create jobs and protecting health care for those New Mexicans who are most in need,” Martinez said in a statement. She signed the budget a ceremony at a Rio Rancho elementary school.

The pension change reverses a budget-balancing move approved last year when the Legislature cut government payroll contributions for pensions by 1.75 percent — saving the state about $50 million. Workers were required to offset by that by paying a larger share of their into their pension funds. Lawmakers ended the pension swap because New Mexico’s finances have improved as the economy rebounded.

Schools are in line for a nearly $90 million increase, with part of that to cover the pension contribution change. Public education accounts for the largest share of the budget — roughly $2 of every $5 the state will spend next year. Included is $8.5 million to improve reading for students in early grades, including $2 million for training teachers in effective reading instruction. About $3.5 million is for assisting struggling schools that get a D or F in the state’s new system for rating school performance.