State pay raises proposed

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SANTA FE (AP) — State spending would increase by nearly $254 million next year under a budget proposal unveiled Friday by a legislative committee that recommends at least a 1.5 percent pay increase for state agency and public school workers, and offers the potential of raises of 3 percent or more for certain employees, including bonuses based on job performance.
The proposal from the Legislative Finance Committee will form the foundation for the Legislature’s spending decisions when lawmakers convene Jan. 21 for a 30-day session.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez plans to outline her budget recommendations next week.
The committee proposed spending about $6.1 billion on public education and general government programs, including courts, prisons and health care for the needy, in the fiscal year that begins next July. That’s about a 4.3 percent increase over this year’s budget.
Teachers, other school workers, college and university staff and state government employees could see an average pay increase of 3 percent if schools and agencies boosted salaries across the board with the compensation money recommended by the committee. That’s not required, however.
The panel proposed 1.5 percent cost-of-living increases for all workers, and would set aside other money to give agencies, colleges and schools the flexibility to provide additional pay raises to deal with problems of recruiting and retaining workers in some jobs as well as give merit-based pay hikes. That additional money is enough to provide an extra 1.5 percent increase if it’s allocated to all employees.
The panel proposed higher raises for certain jobs that are hard to fill and because the state’s pay isn’t competitive.
For example, state police could see overall 8 percent salary increases under the committee’s proposal. Social workers in the Children, Youth and Families Department could get as much as 6 percent raises.
The committee also recommended increasing the base salary for entry-level teachers to $32,500 from $30,000. The governor has said she’ll propose an increase in starting teacher pay to $33,000 and supports money for merit pay raises for teachers and principals.
In the current fiscal year, public employees received 1 percent average pay increases. It was the first raise in four years because the state has struggled with tight budgets because of the recession and a slow economic recovery in New Mexico.
Economists have projected there will be a pool of about $292 million in new revenue available next year for spending increases, to offset the cost of new tax cuts or to bolster the state’s cash reserves. The committee didn’t propose spending all of the money, leaving some for budget decisions during the session.
Other provisions of the committee’s recommendations:

• Spending on public education would increase by 5.6 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.
• 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.
• 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.