Education takes a hit in proposed budget

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Superintendent calls on community for support

By Carol A. Clark

In releasing the governor’s budget recommendation late Tuesday, a spokesman said with education making up most of the state’s budget, there is no way to avoid cutting school funding.

Gov. Bill Richardson is calling for a 3 percent cut across the board.

“This is entirely different from what he said during the special session. Yes — the schools will be affected but the Legislative Finance Committee is looking at maybe a 2 percent cut,” said Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-N.M., a longtime LFC member.

“Part of our problem in evaluating the budget is we still don’t know how much stimulus money we will be getting this year from the federal government. We also have no idea which tax bills will be passed by the legislature in the upcoming session,” Wallace said. “The third thing is that our revenues over the last several months are not coming in at the amount anticipated — we are losing money every month.”

Los Alamos Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt, LAPS Business Manager John Wolfe and Human Resources Manager James Telles discussed the governor’s proposed budget in a meeting this morning and addressed the impact education funding cuts will have on the local community.

“There are a lot of unknowns and we’re operating under the premise that there’s still time to change minds,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to be very visible and very vocal at the legislature this session and we ask the community to join us and to contact Rep. Wallace and other legislators.”

Wolfe explained that the governor’s budget also contains cuts that will reduce the number of units school districts receive and that will reduce the amount of funding LAPS receives.

“Once we know what the cuts are, we want the community to help us prioritize programs by importance and we will find a mechanism in which to do that,” Schmidt said. “This situation makes our referendum election more important than ever because if the community passes it then we will be assured that we can provide the latest technology systems for our students for the next six years.”

There won’t be a single person in the district unaffected by these cuts, Telles said.

Schmidt added that no matter what happens with state funding, student services will remain the top priority.

Richardson’s budget relies on a combination of spending cuts and new revenue to balance the budget, maintain critical services and establish cash reserves at 5 percent, he said in a news release.

The governor’s executive budget includes a solvency plan that cuts state spending by $510 million, accomplished partly by making permanent the $218 million in spending cuts made during the recent special session and through the governor’s executive order.

“Normally the legislators go into session and pass a budget for the following year, but this session we will have to first redo the 2010 budget and then look at the 2011 budget,” Wallace said.

As part of his budget plan, Richardson has proposed:

• Making the equivalent of 3 percent spending cuts across state government, with all options on the table to achieve those cuts, saving $158 million;

• eliminating stalled capital outlay projects, saving $150 million;

• eliminating the practice of double-dipping, saving $4 million;

• adopting recommendations from the committee on government efficiency to save $25 million; and

• eliminating exempt positions, saving $8 million.

Richardson indicated in the news release that he is prepared to negotiate with the Legislature to generate $200 million in temporary new revenue as a critical piece to balancing the budget.

“My budget recommendation includes new revenue as a temporary measure to shore up the budget during this historic global recession. But I will only support a package that automatically expires after the economy recovers and we no longer need this temporary infusion of revenue,” he said.

The governor will specifically oppose efforts to:

• Increase personal income taxes;

• increase capital gains taxes; and

• decrease business tax incentives or credits.

The Executive Budget can be viewed on the Department of Finance and Administration’s Web site at www.nmdfa.state.nm.us.