Biggest budget in state history approved by the Legislature

By: - February 16, 2022 8:35 pm

(Getty Images)

New Mexico lawmakers with heavy pockets walking into the 30-day legislative session approved a historic $8.72 billion budget crafted with record surplus and federal aid. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham directed the Legislature to think big with sweeping proposals in education, crime and energy. 

Now her signature could give raises to New Mexico teachers and police, and create capital investments for small businesses. Lujan Grisham has until March 9 to sign the bill, veto portions of it — or veto it entirely. She has already signaled her support for the legislation. 

“We’re glad to see a budget emerge that includes funding for a great many of the priorities included in the governor’s executive budget recommendation,” said spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett.

The bill took on a slightly different shape in recent hours here at the tail end of the session, losing $30 million for rural hospital services and moving $75 million from governor-backed hydrogen projects over to broadband infrastructure growth — another priority for the state.

This shook out Tuesday night, when the House refused to accept spending increases approved by the Senate.

That action led to an early morning meeting of a new committee with members of both chambers.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup) took reigns and introduced seven amendments cutting some portions of the budget the Senate sent her chamber. 

Five were approved.

“We provided a framework to the Senate Finance Committee, a certain amount of recurring and nonrecurring (spending), and I could say that generally speaking, they did not overspend in that portion,” Lundstrom said. “It’s just how they rearranged the deck chairs so to speak.”

The final version of the budget bill leaves recurring spending at $8.49 billion. Combined with nonrecurring money to projects like outdoor classrooms and funding to services for sexual assault survivors, the state will spend a total of $8.72 billion in the next fiscal year.

The committee kept Senate amendments that include $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. 

Services for sexual assault survivors will peak around $4.5 million. 

With the changes from this morning’s committee, the state budget will have a reserve balance of $2.49 billion — or 29.% — within the requirement of savings the state must maintain. 

New Mexico’s budget was expected to exceed expectations as the state had $5.3 billion in revenue from New Mexico’s oil and gas industry. Overall, legislators approved spending increases by 13.9% from the previous year.

American Rescue Plan leftovers

Federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act are the foundation for some investments. New Mexico received $1.1 billion in federal aid under the plan, spending $478 million during a special legislative session in December 2021.

The rest is going toward support for New Mexicans in the form of tax breaks, education spending, capital investments, road projects and support for aid. 

The money can also be leveraged to gain additional federal dollars.

Legislators rejected several attempts for legislation that would accelerate hydrogen infrastructure with matching federal dollars and instead moved the money to addressing broadband access issues around the state. 

Every state employee benefits from this budget. To start, lawmakers funded a  $15 minimum wage for any employee of the state government . 

Judges are expecting a 30% raise. State police will get 16%. 

The budget includes $24 million for alleviating the state’s food insecurity. 

Teachers across the state will receive a $10,000 increase in pay based on their license level on top of a 7%increase for all school employees. The budget will also fund the increase in pay for Native American language instructors to match that of level two teachers, which will be $60,000 if that piece of legislation is signed by the governor.

Overall public education spending is $3.87 billion.

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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. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.