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House OKs state budget

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Politics > Garcia Richard votes against bill

By The Staff

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration will receive money to establish a merit pay system for teachers under a proposed state budget approved Thursday by the House despite objections from Democrats.

The House approved the financial blueprint on a 53-16 vote on Thursday, and sent it to the Senate for consideration. Only Democrats voted against the bill.

The measure will allocate nearly $5.9 billion for public schools, colleges and state government programs — ranging from prisons to health care — in the fiscal year starting in July. That’s an increase of 4.2 percent, or $239 million.

The budget leaves $19 million available for additional increases by the Senate and to offset possible tax cuts. The governor has proposed $47 million in tax reductions next year, including cutting the corporate income tax rate.

The largest share of the budget — nearly $2.6 billion or a 4.6 percent increase — will go for public schools, the Public Education Department and other educational programs.

Several Democrats objected to the proposed education spending including Stephanie Garcia Richard (D-Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Sandoval).

“Our schools are in crisis and we have the opportunity to help alleviate some of the burden this legislative session. I believe we have the duty to protect every child equally and value the teachers who work tirelessly to ensure every student has the opportunity they so deserve.

 “While House Bill 2 is a valiant example of what we can do when both sides come together in the Legislature, the damaging effects it will have on our schools are just too grave to ignore. House Bill 2 takes New Mexico backwards by creating a merit pay system for teachers as well as, causes the unequal distribution of resources throughout New Mexico public schools.

“I do believe there were major advancements made by the Legislature to expand programs and protect New Mexico in House Bill 2, but because of the negative consequences it will have on our schools I have decided to vote against the 2013 Appropriations Bill. As this bill moves to the Senate I look forward to working with all members to improve the bill’s impacts on our communities.  .

“You can’t come up here without someone having some type of reform. I wish we would throw out that word because what we need more than reform is sufficient funding. We have been starving these schools since ‘09,” said Rep. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the Education Committee who voted against the budget.

The measure provides $3 million for a pilot program of merit pay to reward high-performing teachers. The governor had requested $11 million for the pay incentives.

“The idea of merit pay implies that the teacher force is withholding good teaching until they’re being given more money, and I think it’s so wrong,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, an Albuquerque Democrat who is retired educator.

House Republicans were quick to point out that the 16 Democrats voted against the bill.

“Currently, only 70 percent of New Mexico students graduate high school,” said RPNM Chairman John Billingsley. “This is an increase from past years; however, we can do better, and the children of New Mexico deserve better. The 2013 budget passed by the House has targeted funds to address the root of the problem and make necessary reforms for future generations of New Mexicans.”

“Improving the education system and increasing public safety should chief among focuses this session, and the budget importantly included funding to allow our undermanned law enforcement to expand,” Billingsley said. “It is a shame that 16 Democrat Representatives voted against this budget — and against what is best for New Mexico.”

The House trimmed money for several of the governor’s educational initiatives. Lawmakers provided $11 million to help students with reading problems in early grades but the governor wanted $13 million. The budget allocates $4 million to help struggling schools although Martinez recommended $4.7 million.

The bill will increase state aid for special education by $12 million next year and authorizes an additional $20 million if needed to help resolve a dispute with the federal government.

The budget provides about $35 million for 1 percent pay raises for state workers and educators and 3 percent for state police. It will be the first across-the-board salary increase for public employees since 2008.

The governor did not recommend pay raises for educators or government workers in her spending recommendations to the Legislature.

Besides money for yearly government operations, the budget allocates nearly $109 million to supplement agency budgets or finance one-time projects. About $20 million is for road improvements statewide, $6.5 million for legal costs to defend New Mexico’s water rights, $2.4 million for state police cars, $2.4 million for a new teacher and principal evaluation system and $6 million for economic development programs.