House spending plan would raise teacher salaries 6 percent

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Pay would increase by at least 6 percent for teachers and 4 percent for state workers under an annual state spending plan moving through the Legislature.

Democratic lawmakers advanced a plan Monday to increase New Mexico state spending on public school education by about $450 million — with raises of 6 percent teachers and public school staff. The proposal is headed for a full vote of the House of Representatives over the objections of Republicans in the legislative minority.

Lawmakers are confronting a court order to increase resources to public schools and provide an adequate education to students from low-income and minority families. New Mexico is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar surge in government income linked to coming oil and natural gas production in the southeastern corner of the state.

The lead House budget-writing committee advanced a spending plan on a 12-6 party-line vote Monday that would increase annual state general fund spending by 11 percent, or nearly $700 million, to just over $7 billion for the fiscal year starting July 1.

House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairwoman Patricia Lundstrom said Monday that the spending plan was designed to address the court order by setting aside new money for schools attending to disadvantaged children, preschool programs and an extended school year in many elementary schools.

“It’s putting money into areas that we think are going to help us with compliance,” Lundstrom said.

Lundstrom said spending increases also are aimed at expanding the state’s pipeline for training new teachers and minimum teacher pay, both for new teachers and veterans who advance to intermediate and advanced certifications.

The spending plan sets aside an estimated $1.6 billion in financial reserves by mid-2020 to provide a budget cushion in the event of an oil-sector bust or broader economic recession.

Even so, Republicans said the bill raises state spending too far, too fast.

“I don’t think it is sustainable,” said Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. “I’ve been there when we had to cut the budget and it hurts. I’m just afraid of what is happing two or three years down the line.” He said he supported teacher pay increases within the spending package.

Preston Sanchez, an attorney for plaintiff parents and school districts that have successfully sued the state, said the spending bill does not yet explicitly fund a proposed framework for teaching English-language learners and preserving indigenous languages through bilingual education.

“From our perspective, there is nothing in the funding bill to address the multi-cultural and the multi-lingual needs of students,” said Sanchez, noting that companion legislation is pending. “That was one of the core components of the court order.”

The spending proposal would raise salaries across state government by 4 percent.

It sets aside $150 million to pay for a backlog in tax credits for film productions. Highway construction and road funds for local government are major components of the draft spending bill.

It addresses rising state costs for Medicaid with a $30 million increase to offset reductions in federal subsidies.

Full House approval would send the bill to the Senate for consideration and likely revisions.

Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has recommended greater spending increases for state government operations, and more than $500 million in new annual spending on public education.

New Mexico is one of a handful of states in which the Legislature and governor develop parallel budget proposals. Lujan Grisham has line-item veto authority. She can also reject the entire budget and reconvene the Legislature.

The legislative session ends March 16 and a district court judge has given the governor and lawmakers until April 15 to come up a plan to address inadequate educational opportunities for school children.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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