Legislative panel proposes state worker pay raises

January 9, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State workers in New Mexico would receive a 1 percent salary increase — their first across-the-board raise since 2008 — and [auth] state police officers would get a 3 percent pay hike under budget recommendations released Wednesday by a legislative panel.

Under proposals by the Legislative Finance Committee, the state would spend almost $5.9 billion on public education and government programs — from health care to prisons — in the 2014 fiscal year starting July 1. That’s an increase of about 4 percent or $232 million over this year’s budget.

The panel’s recommendations serve as a starting point for budget decisions by the Democratic-controlled Legislature during a 60-day session that starts next week.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and committee chairman, said the budget will leave the state with healthy cash reserves as a cushion against possible federal spending cutbacks, which could require the state to plug holes in some programs.

“We’re going to move gingerly, so to speak,” Smith said of the state budget. “We’re still apprehensive with the economy and what’s going to happen with the federal dollars.”

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is to announce her budget proposals Thursday, but an aide said those will not include a pay raise for public employees.

“Just as the governor and the Legislature have done in the last two years in a bipartisan way, the governor expects that she’ll be able to work with Democrats and Republicans to make sure our budget is balanced in a responsible way that will invest heavily on reforming our education system and on making New Mexico competitive so we can create jobs,” said Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Martinez.

The pay increases would cost about $32 million and cover workers in government agencies as well as public schools, colleges and universities. School districts ultimately decide whether to provide raises to teachers and other educational employees. The Legislature, however, appropriates money to schools to cover possible raises.

Lawmakers proposed spending $54 million to boost government contributions for public employee and educator pensions. About $38 million would reverse a “pension swap” that lawmakers enacted in 2009 to balance the budget.

The state reduced its pension contributions and required workers to pay an extra 1.5 percent of their salaries into retirement programs. That law is expiring and lawmakers must provide money to raise government contributions by 1.5 percent to offset lower worker payments. About $16 million is for higher government payments into the educational retirement program to improve its long-term solvency.

Take-home pay of state workers and educators dropped because of the recent pension changes when government grappled with budget shortfalls because of a downturn in the economy. The Legislature hasn’t provided an across-the-board pay raise for public employees since 2008, when 2.4 percent average pay increases were approved for state workers and 2 percent for educators.

Other proposed budget provisions:

—An extra $16 million in state aid for early childhood programs, including pre-kindergarten, child care assistance to low-income families and extended school years for students in kindergarten through third grade in schools serving high-poverty areas.

—About $2.5 billion for public schools and the Public Education Department. That’s an increase of about $109 million, or more than 4 percent, including money for pay raises. About $23 million is for a proposed school funding change to direct more state aid to schools for students at risk of failing and dropping out.

—About $785 million for colleges and universities. That’s an increase of more than 4 percent, or nearly $34 million, including money for pay raises.

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