Historic state budget gets even bigger in Senate Finance

Sexual assault services see a comparatively small allocation, and advocates say more support is needed

By: - February 14, 2022 6:02 am

(Getty Images)

New Mexico lawmakers were up early on Sunday to spend even more money in what was already the state’s largest budget in history.

The Senate Finance committee unanimously approved an amendment that adds $141 million to non-recurring spending and $11.1 million in annual spending, increasing the overall budget that was approved by the House last week to $8.48 billion. 

“We spent a lot of money. I hope we spent it correctly. I think we did,” said Sen. George Muñoz, (D-Gallup). “We did our best in the 30 day to do that, and throughout the year.”

Armed with a record $5.3 billion in local and state tax revenue from New Mexico’s oil and gas industry, legislators are just one step away from approving spending increases by 13.9% from the previous year.

The committee’s budget report will be read on the Senate floor Monday, allowing four days for legislators to debate and vote on the budget before the 30-day legislative session ends Feb. 17. 

The Senate amendment doesn’t take out any of the major proposals in the House version of the spending bill. 

Public education has the largest line item, as lawmakers are looking to approve a $3.87 billion budget for K-12 that includes raises for teachers based on their license level, a 7% pay increase for all school personnel and an increase to the Indian Education Fund. 

The Senate also kept the 16% pay raise for state police officers, while also amending the bill to add $3.5 million to give judges a 3% pay raise. 

Sexual Assault programs ask lawmakers to double their funding

Increasing the minimum wage for state employees to $15-an-hour also remains in the bill. 

Recurring appropriations establish a budget line for services to get funding each year. On top of the increasing salaries for judges and their employees, the Senate amendment provides $500,000 for domestic violence services, $500,000 for outdoor classrooms, and $3 million split between the athletic departments at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University. 

The amendment includes $2 million for sexual assault victim services, but only half of that is recurring. 

Alexandria Taylor is the director of services at the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs. She said the coalition made a $5 million request to lawmakers to fund services. The Senate amendment paired with $2.5 million approved by the House is a step, she said, but more support is needed.

“We are at a crisis levels of sexual violence in New Mexico. We ranked seventh in rates of sexual violence,” Taylor said. “We have waitlist in some communities that range from 12 to 17 months for trauma counseling. Someone who has had a traumatic experience such as sexual assault cannot wait 12 months for critical intervention.”

The bulk of the $141 million added in non-recurring spending will go to law enforcement efforts. 

Food banks to lawmakers: The need for state funding is urgent

Senate Finance added $42 million for officer recruitment and retention stipends, which added to the House allocation brings the total $67 million. 

An additional $25 million approved brings available money for small businesses through LEDA Recovery Grants to $50 million. 

Housing support and homeless services will each get an additional $10 million in non-recurring spending under the Senate plan. New Mexico’s effort to take on food insecurity in the state was given $16 million, increasing overall food efforts to $24 million for the next budget year. 

“We have to get this money in the economy if you want to make New Mexico stay stable and grow and have budgeting that really works,” Muñoz said.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.