Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham released an $8.4 billion spending proposal for the upcoming fiscal year with an emphasis on boosting public education funding and programs and bolstering public safety efforts.
The proposal was unveiled just minutes before the Legislative Finance Committee pitched its own plan — an $8.46 billion budget — at a news conference in the Capitol. That proposal also funnels extra money into the public education and public safety sectors.
Both budgets, which will come under scrutiny when the Legislature convenes later this month for a 30-day session, involve a roughly $1 billion increase in spending over the current year. They are reflections of a recent rosy prediction of $1.6 billion in new state revenues, which does not include still unused federal dollars — more than $600 million — from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Both proposals maintain healthy reserve funds — 36.4 percent in the governor’s budget; 30 percent in the Legislative Finance Committee’s.
“These are investments that take us beyond the status quo, beyond decades of unnecessary austerity,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release issued Thursday morning. “These are investments that carry our state and its people into a future that lifts up every New Mexican.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Patti Lundstrom, D-Gallup, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which helps spearhead the budget process for legislators, said a budget of this size is “unheard of” in New Mexico. She said based on the continued flourish of gas and oil revenues, “we feel we got it just right.”
It’s typical for both the executive and legislative branches to propose budgets for the coming years, though rarely do they do so on the same day. Once the session begins Jan. 18, both will negotiate to come up with a final document. Lundstrom noted the total spending allocations for the budgets is “close.”
Improving the state’s public education system has remained the focus of both the governor and lawmakers, particularly in light of the historic Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit, in which a coalition of parents, students, educators and lawmakers charged the state was not doing enough to provide resources for impoverished students, English-language learners and other children.
District Judge Sarah Singleton in 2018 ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, telling state leaders to enact plans and programs to help those students.
Though she did not attach a price tag to her ruling, Singleton’s message was clear, and state leaders have been funneling more money into public education — though not enough to satisfy some of the plaintiffs. Both proposals commit about $3.8 billion to public schools and recommend a 7 percent salary increase for teachers.
The Legislative Finance Committee proposal includes $180 million targeted at programs to address the Yazzie/Martinez case, such as extended learning hours in schools and other programs.
Both budgets also target public safety.
The governor’s proposal calls for $100 million to hire 1,000 more police officers around the state and requests a 20 percent increase in current pay standards for state police officers.
The Legislative Finance Committee budget proposes $4.7 million for additional state police officer pay and close to $785,000 in compensation increases for other key public safety positions.
Other priorities for both budget proposals are increasing broadband access, investing more in Medicaid programs and increasing state employee salaries. The governor’s budget also includes $6.5 million for the new Cannabis Control Division, with much of that funding going to hiring 35 new staff members to begin overseeing the state’s fledgling legalized marijuana industry.
Though the governor did not hold a news conference to discuss her budget, lawmakers who attended the Legislative Finance Committee event praised that panel’s proposal. Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he thought that budget takes a “cautious approach.”
“Revenues are great,” he said. “We think we’re spending wisely.”