Governor’s budget targets safety, education, jobs
By Elva Österreich
Las Cruces Bulletin
The New Mexico Legislature gathers for a 30-day budget session Tuesday, Jan. 19 in Santa Fe.
Gov. Susana Martinez announced her Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal, which, according to a release from her office, includes responsible budgeting and targets funding toward initiatives designed to keep New Mexicans safe, grow the state’s economy, and reform and improve the education of New Mexican children.
The governor’s $6.46 billion budget proposal, which represents an increase in recurring state spending of 3.7 percent (or $228 million,) can be found online on the governor’s website at www.governor. state.nm.us.
“This budget prioritizes keeping our communities, families, and children safe, while investing in critical education reforms to help our kids learn,” Martinez said. “We must also focus on creating jobs and developing a more diverse economy throughout the state.
“With these goals in mind, I am confident we will once again be able to work with the Legislature to craft a responsible budget that will make a positive impact on the lives of New Mexicans while ensuring a foundation of fiscal stability for our state.” The governor’s FY 2017 budget includes significant investments in improving public safety and the well-being of children in New Mexico, including: • $11 million for targeted compensation increases for the hardest to recruit and retain positions in state government, including correctional officers, probation and parole officers, forensic scientists, and child abuse caseworkers in addition to certain public health workers and information technology personnel.
• Nearly $1 million to expand the unit that captures those who abscond from parole, in an effort to prevent them from committing future crimes.
• $9 million in various Department of Public Safety initiatives, including implementing the final phase of a plan to increase the compensation of commissioned police officers, increasing the number of State Police officers, and improving the capacity of the State Forensic Laboratories to address criminal case backlogs. Recurring and non-recurring revenue would also be used to establish a clearinghouse that would allow every judge in New Mexico to have access to accurate criminal background information on defendants, as well as to clear the backlog of rape kits in police departments across the state.
• More than $8 million to fund increases in various child well-being initiatives, including increasing the number of families served by family support workers in an effort to prevent child abuse (in addition to the continued use and development of child advocacy centers throughout New Mexico), hiring additional caseworkers in order to reduce caseloads on those who investigate abuse referrals, recruiting more foster care families, expanding the ability for law enforcement to access child abuse case history from CYFD in real-time, improving outreach efforts to target populations for early childhood services, and increasing enrollment in the governor’s CYFD caseworker loan repayment program whereby these workers can receive financial assistance with the payment of student loans in return for service to the State.
Additionally, the governor’s budget proposes to spend $101 million in new funding to support the needs of New Mexico’s public school classrooms and students. This represents 44 percent of the governor’s proposed total new recurring spending. In addition to covering basic school services, such as higher utilities and enrollment growth, this additional funding will be invested, in part, in raising the minimum starting teacher salary from $34,000/year to $36,000/year.
Additional education reform proposals designed to help support teachers and help struggling students and schools succeed include:
• $10 million to launch “New Mexico Reads to Lead 2.0,” which builds on current early reading interventions by targeting the use of reading coaches and other interventionists specifically on the state’s habitually lowest-performing schools.
• $55.2 million in total funding for Pre-K and K-3 Plus, an increase of $7 million over last year’s funding. Under Governor Martinez’s administration, funding and participation in Pre-K has roughly tripled, and approximately 22,000 New Mexico students now have access to summer tutoring in early grades when they are struggling to read. The governor’s budget also calls for $5 million in new capital funding for the construction of additional pre-K classrooms throughout the state.
• $8.75 million in funding to expand the state’s new teacher mentorship program, known as “Teachers Pursuing Excellence,” which builds upon the success of a similar principal mentorship program established two years ago, as well as expand district-driven performance- pay pilot programs to meet demand for participation in this effort. The Governor’s budget would also continue to provide pre-loaded debit cards to teachers each year to help them pay for school supplies for their classrooms and provide stipends to help recruit and retain teachers in hard-to-staff subject areas and locations.
• $1.5 million to offer 66 high-performing college students a $15,000 scholarship to enter a college of education and commit to teaching in New Mexico, as well as provide $10,000 stipends to the top 50 teachers in the state, expand the state’s teacher loan repayment program, and expand the state’s new program through Northern New Mexico College that specifically develops and trains new Native American teachers.
• The governor’s budget also provides $30 million for textbooks and instructional materials in New Mexico classrooms, an increase of $5 million over last year, and aims to combat truancy in middle and high schools by expanding funding for district-driven
plans to place social workers in key middle schools and dropout prevention coaches in the high schools that receive those middle school students.
With respect to economic development and job creation, the governor is proposing several investments and reforms designed to help small businesses grow, attract companies and jobs from out of state to New Mexico, and encourage greater diversity in the state’s economy. These initiatives include: • A total of $10 million for the successful Job Training Incentive Program ($2 million recurring, $8 million non-recurring), which serves to support small businesses as they hire and train new workers in New Mexico. This would be the highest level of funding for this program during this administration.
• Roughly $10 million in capital funding to maintain a robust closing fund for economic development projects, through the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA). These LEDA grants are designed to help the state and local communities invest in infrastructure projects to attract specific companies to the state.
• $1.25 million in non-recurring funding for a new “Rapid Workforce Development Fund,” which would allow the state to quickly train a specialized workforce through one of the state’s community colleges or other higher education institutions in order to close a business recruitment deal.
• $2.3 million in new funding for the Department of Tourism to increase the impact of the successful New Mexico True advertising campaign. Tourism is on the rise for the fifth straight year in New Mexico, with spending by tourists in our communities increasing by 4.5 percent in 2014. We have also seen a record number of visitors to New Mexico each of the last few years.
Various other proposals to increase staffing for international trade, expand the use of business incubators, invest in MainStreet capital projects and additional MainStreet programming, and fund the Technology Research Collaborative to bring innovative products being researched at national laboratories and universities to the marketplace.
The governor’s budget also makes available roughly $4 million for targeted tax relief, which could include easing the tax burden on small businesses, exempting the retirement income of certain veterans from personal income taxes, encouraging the location of new or expanding companies in MainStreet districts or other key economic development zones, and fixing the renewable energy production tax credit.
With respect to other significant budget obligations, the governor’s budget proposal allocates an additional $69 million in Medicaid spending, roughly 2/3 of which is due to the federal government’s scheduled reduction in federal match from 100 percent to 95 percent of the cost of those enrolled under Medicaid expansion. Additional Medicaid costs are, in part, due to what is known as the “woodwork effect,” whereby individuals apply for Medicaid expansion only to find that they are eligible for traditional Medicaid (which costs the state far more money).
Regarding non-recurring spending, the governor proposes a total of $117 million in FY16 and FY17 to cover onetime obligations, initiatives, and various contingency items. These include, among other items and in addition to items already noted, emergency supplemental funding for small school districts, the cost of administering the 2016 election, funding for Spaceport operations, and roughly $35 million on critical information technology projects.
These projects include digitizing state personnel records, improving the management of inmate case files to ensure that prisoners are not released early, launching the online small business portal, expanding access to child abuse case history to more law enforcement officers statewide, and establishing the “Students Work” internship portal, which would connect college students throughout the State to internships offered by businesses of all types in New Mexico.
Items already noted that would utilize non-recurring spending include clearing the rape kit backlog, expanding JTIP funding, setting up a clearinghouse for criminal history information, and funding the Rapid Workforce Development Fund.
In conclusion, this budget is built upon the revenue estimates generated by the consensus revenue estimating group in December 2015. Executive budget priorities, and the overall proposed level of new spending, are subject to change as a result of persistently low prices of oil and natural gas. The current volatility in state revenue, and the recent decrease in the overall revenue projection between August and December of 2015 led the Governor to take a cautious approach with respect to the base budgets in many state agencies.
As a result, her proposal calls for virtually no increase in the budgets of many statewide executive branch agencies, including the Governor’s Office, Lt. Governor’s Office, Land Commissioner, Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer, and the PRC — and for similar flat budgets for the legislative branch, judicial branch, and most executive state agencies. All told, flat budgets would be adopted in 66 percent of all state agencies under the governor’s proposal.