Summary of budget proposals by legislative panel

January 4, 2014 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Here are highlights of budget proposals released Friday by the Legislative Finance Committee for the upcoming 30-day session of the Legislature.

—Spending on public school operations, the Public Education Department and other education initiatives would increase by 5.6 [auth] percent or nearly $143 million. That would provide about $2.7 billion in overall funding for schools, which traditionally account for the largest share of spending in the state budget.

—Nearly $837 million for the state’s network of colleges and universities, which represents a 5.1 percent increase. Included in the budget is additional money to help train more nurses to address a shortage of health care providers.

—Spending would drop 2.7 percent to $905 million for Medicaid, which provides health care for needy children and low-income adults. The state expects to reduce its spending because of possible savings in the program and the availability of more federal money.

—A $35 million or 17 percent increase for a range of early childhood initiatives, including pre-kindergarten, early literacy programs, subsidized child care and an extended school year for students in kindergarten through third grade in schools in high poverty areas.

—About $103 million for pay increases for workers in state agencies, courts, public schools, colleges and universities. All workers would receive at least a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase and higher raises, averaging about 3 percent, are possible for most employees depending on how schools and agencies allocate part of the proposed money for compensation. Certain government workers, such state police and judge, could get increases of about 8 percent.

—$11 million to immediately shore up a lottery-financed college scholarship program and prevent possible cuts for students this spring. The program currently covers the full cost of tuition for eligible New Mexico students at public colleges and universities in the state. The Department of Finance and Administration estimates $16 million is needed to avoid cutbacks. The committee also recommends changing the program to provide a flat dollar amount for scholarships in the future rather than linking the aid to tuition. The scholarship program is running out of money because lottery proceeds aren’t keeping pace with rising tuition costs and growing demand for financial aid from students.

—The budget would leave the state with cash reserves of nearly $583 million, which is equal to about 9.5 percent of spending. Lawmakers and the Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration contend it’s prudent to maintain reserves of about 10 percent to provide a safety net in case of unexpected financial problems or if revenue collections are lower than expected.

—The committee didn’t allocate about $26 million in available revenue, leaving it for budget decisions by lawmakers during the session.

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