Tuesday, January 21, 2020
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging legislators at the outset of the state’s annual legislative session to rally around new financial commitments to public education that range from an expansion of preschool slots to free college tuition for local residents.
Lujan Grisham was scheduled to deliver her second State of the State speech at noon on Tuesday as legislators weigh what to do with an $800 million budget surplus for the coming fiscal year. The increase in government income is linked largely to increased production of oil in southeastern New Mexico.
The governor also has indicated support for legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, shoring up a state public pension fund and a red-flag gun bill that would allow the temporary removal of household firearms by court order when police or family members detect dangerous tendencies.
A mass shooting in nearby El Paso, Texas, and concerns about violent crime in Albuquerque have spawned a long list of public safety proposals that expand the state’s anti-terrorism statutes and criminalize threats and cyber attacks that disrupt schools and government institutions.
The governor’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year would increase general fund spending by about 8%. Leading Republican lawmakers are warning that the proposed general fund spending increase – on top of a 12% increase this year – will be hard to sustain in the future if the economy or crucial local oil industry falter.
“When you have a windfall or you have high profit, one of the first things that a responsible businessman does is pay down debt and get himself in a position for those lean times in the future,” said Republican House minority leader Jim Townsend of Artesia.
On the education front, New Mexico lawmakers are contending with court challenges from parents and school districts alleging inadequate state funding. New Mexico has the nation’s lowest high school graduation rate, while more than 600 teaching positions are vacant across the state.
The governor’s spending proposal calls for a 4% boost for public school salaries – building on larger salary hikes this year – and a $74 million increase in spending on early childhood education programs for more prekindergarten slots, subsidized day care services for more children living on the cusp of poverty and more home counseling services for families under financial or social stress.
Lujan Grisham also is calling for greater spending on Medicaid amid an enrollment drive by the state and rate increases for provider of mental health and anti-addiction services.
New tax incentives for local solar energy projects and electric vehicle purchases also are on the governor’s wish list.
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