You don’t have to use the veto pen all that often when there’s plenty of money.
With New Mexico riding an oil boom, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a $7 billion budget on Thursday with raises for public employees and hundreds of millions of dollars for roads.
To go with it, the governor also signed a multifaceted tax bill that will increase the Working Families Tax Credit but also require internet retailers to collect state and eventually local gross receipts tax while also imposing new levies on e-cigarettes.
While the tax bill is significantly scaled back from what Democrats in the New Mexico House of Representatives had originally proposed during the 60-day session that began in January, the budget is still mostly what the new governor wants.
It is an 11.6 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year that sets out a financial path for the state that backers say will lead to mending cuts made during worse budgetary times, with money to spare. In turn, she used her veto pen sparingly Thursday to cut only a few pieces of funding from what is known as the General Appropriations Act, or House Bill 2.
“As we begin the essential work of rebuilding our economy, education system and government, this budget provides a solid foundation,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement after signing the budget unceremoniously at her office.
But the big budget comes with big questions, such as whether it will sufficiently cushion the state from the next financial downturn and whether the increased spending on education — while substantial — will satisfy a Santa Fe judge who has demanded New Mexico’s government do more to provide a quality education for at-risk students.
Then, there is the question of how the new taxes will go over with voters.
The Lujan Grisham administration has argued the additional revenue, projected at around $71 million in the next fiscal year, is key to keeping the state’s financial reserves high while increasing spending to meet a range of the new governor’s priorities.
The bill is a drastically scaled-back version of the tax bill initially put forward by House Democrats, which would have raised upward of $300 million in part by raising personal income taxes.
But the goal remains of keeping around 20 percent of the state’s general fund in reserves, a high point compared to recent years, to ride out a financial decline.
The governor initially had proposed reserves of around 25 percent.
“Twenty percent would be enough to cover us in a downturn,” Finance and Administration Secretary Olivia Padilla-Jackson said Thursday, pointing to forecasts by state economists.
But Republicans argued for building bigger reserves by simply spending less money than Democrats had proposed, contending tax increases are unjustifiable in the face of a budget surplus.
“There is no way we can go back to our districts and say this tax increase was a good idea,” Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said during the session.
In all, the budget includes:
• Raises of 4 percent for state employees, including employees in higher education.
• $250 million in funds for roads and highways, along with $89 million for maintenance projects and $50 million for a local transportation infrastructure fund.
• About 46 percent of the budget goes to public education, with nearly $450 million in new funding. The budget includes a 6 percent raise for teachers and school employees while increasing the minimum pay for teachers. It also includes additional funding for extended learning time and prekindergarten.
• A 10 percent increase in funding for the Children, Youth and Families Department.
• A 5 percent increase in funding for the Corrections Department, with money for transitional housing, filling vacant positions within the understaffed agency and covering overtime costs.
The governor vetoed a total of $42.5 million from the budget, according to her office. That money was attached to legislation that did not pass, was duplicative of other appropriations or would have required using some federal funds for purposes the federal government would not allow.
Lujan Grisham has until noon Friday to sign remaining legislation passed by lawmakers during the session, which ended March 16.