Gov. signs budget legislation

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Pension changes approved

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law on Friday a package of financial measures, including a budget allocating $5.4 billion next year for public education and general government programs.

The budget, as signed, will cut state spending by nearly 3 percent, or $156 million, in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The governor used her line-item veto powers to trim about $1.9 million from yearly operations of government and $2.6 million in one-time spending items. The governor’s reductions included  $50,000 for pre-session expenses before next year’s 30-day legislative session, $100,000 that lawmakers had provided for a committee to handle redistricting,  $200,000 for state centennial activities next year, $250,000 for the Administrative Office of the Courts to avoid furloughs or layoffs in courts, $450,000 for the Commission on the Status of Women and $349,300 for operating the African American performing arts center and exhibit hall at the state air.

Also signed was a bill that will save $111 million through changes in public employee pensions. One provision requires nearly 82,000 state workers, public school employees and college faculty to pay an additional 1.75 percent of their salaries into their pensions next year, saving the state almost $50 million. A similar 1.5 percent pension swap was enacted in 2009 and that’s continued for another year, saving nearly $43 million. Lawmakers contended that the pension changes were less drastic than worker layoffs or furloughs. The higher pension contributions do not apply to workers earning less than $20,000 a year.

For a teacher earning an average of $40,000, the 1.5 percent pension contribution swap has lowered their take-home pay by about $650 a year. A reduction in the federal Social Security withholding tax this year will help offset the contribution increase for workers, lawmakers said.