By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE — The Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez are on a collision course over a proposed $5.9 billion state budget after lawmakers decided Wednesday to send her the spending blueprint despite a threatened veto.
The Legislature ends on Saturday, and the clash over the budget creates the possibility that lawmakers could be forced to return to work later in a special session if the governor follows through on her veto threat.
If a budget isn’t signed into law, there will be no money to finance public education and state government programs when the next fiscal year starts on July 1.
“I’m very disappointed in the lack of compromise by the other party, and by the unbalanced approach to our state budget taken by many lawmakers,” the governor said in a statement.
“While the Democrats want me to agree to pay increases for government employees and larger subsidies for Hollywood corporations, they have refused to pass meaningful education reforms to improve student achievement, and they have refused to lower taxes to make New Mexico more competitive to help businesses grow, and to create more jobs.”
The budget won final approval when the House voted 37-33 mostly along party lines to accept a Senate-passed version of the spending measure. One House Democrat broke party ranks and joined Republicans in opposing the budget, which was backed by all GOP senators in the Senate.
Democrats defended the budget and said it provided money for much of what the governor had requested. They described the veto threat as a political maneuver by Martinez to pressure the Legislature to agree to the administration’s policy proposals on schools and taxes.
“I urge the governor to not veto this piece of legislation because it is in the best interests of the state of New Mexico. I believe that is what we are here for — the entire state of New Mexico — not for issues that may for one reason or another be part of a larger political agenda,” said House Majority Leader Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque.
The governor is particularly unhappy with the budget because lawmakers didn’t fund her proposed $11 million pilot program of merit pay for high-performing teachers. Martinez also wants Democrats to approve corporate income tax cuts as economic development incentives.
Lawmakers are still working on a possible package of business tax cuts but have sent the governor a separate measure to sweeten tax incentives for film and television production done in New Mexico.
The budget provides $2 million for stipends for experienced teachers who agree to move to a struggling school from a high-performing school. An earlier version of the budget, which was supported by Republicans when it passed the House, earmarked $3 million for merit pay for high-performing teachers.
The budget provides $33 million for 1 percent pay raises for state workers and educators and 4 percent for state police and motor transportation officers in the Public Safety Department. It’s the first across-the-board salary increase for public employees since 2008, when the state’s economy nosedived and lawmakers had to cut state spending. Martinez didn’t include a pay raise in her budget proposals to lawmakers.
The Legislature’s budget proposes a 4.4 percent increase in spending in the next fiscal year and it’s only about $14 million higher than the total spending recommended by the Martinez administration.
Most of the governor’s objections involve relatively modest amounts of money on a number of programs. The administration contends the Corrections Department was shortchanged, for example. The Legislature provided nearly $270 million for the agency — about $1.5 million less than what the governor had proposed.