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LFC proposes state worker pay raises

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By Barry Massey
The Associated Press

SANTA FE — State workers in New Mexico would receive a 1 percent salary increase — their first across-the-board raise since 2008 — and state police officers would get a 3 percent pay hike under budget recommendations released Wednesday by a legislative panel.

Under proposals by the Legislative Finance Committee, the state would spend almost $5.9 billion on public education and government programs — from health care to prisons — in the 2014 fiscal year starting July 1. That’s an increase of about 4 percent or $232 million over this year’s budget.

The panel’s recommendations serve as a starting point for budget decisions by the Democratic-controlled Legislature during a 60-day session that starts next week.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and committee chairman, said the budget will leave the state with healthy cash reserves as a cushion against possible federal spending cutbacks, which could require the state to plug holes in some programs.

“We’re going to move gingerly, so to speak,” Smith said of the state budget. “We’re still apprehensive with the economy and what’s going to happen with the federal dollars.”

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez was to announce her budget proposals Thursday, but an aide said those will not include a pay raise for public employees.

“Just as the governor and the Legislature have done in the last two years in a bipartisan way, the governor expects that she’ll be able to work with Democrats and Republicans to make sure our budget is balanced in a responsible way that will invest heavily on reforming our education system and on making New Mexico competitive so we can create jobs,” said Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Martinez.

The pay increases would cost about $32 million and cover workers in government agencies as well as public schools, colleges and universities. School districts ultimately decide whether to provide raises to teachers and other educational employees. The Legislature, however, appropriates money to schools to cover possible raises.

Lawmakers proposed spending $54 million to boost government contributions for public employee and educator pensions. About $38 million would reverse a “pension swap” that lawmakers enacted in 2009 to balance the budget.