New Mexico House approves $6.2 billion budget with bumps for education, child safety, tourism

The New Mexico House of Representatives has approved a $6.2 billion spending proposal for the next fiscal year that includes pay raises for new teachers and state police officers.

The House voted 42-25 Tuesday after three hours of debate. Five Democrats sided with 37 Republicans in the majority. The bill now moves to the Senate.

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While most department budgets remain largely flat, the bill boosts spending for education, the state's child welfare agency and tourism.

The amount of spending in the bill is nearly the same as that outlined by Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislative Finance Committee earlier this year.

Both laid out plans in January — based on revenue projections available then — to spend an additional $70 million or so on education. But with less new money available due to falling oil prices, the bill calls for a $37 million bump for learning initiatives.

The figure represents about 44 percent of the more than $80 million in new money available to spend.

As anticipated, local schools' and districts' control over the money versus disbursement by the Public Education Department became a contested issue during the House debate.

Among other changes, Democrats sought to shift more funding to school districts to the tune of nearly $14 million in their attempt to increase local control via an amendment to the budget bill. The effort failed on a 37-30 party-line vote.

Another amendment by Democrats to award $4.35 million for Native American education and health programs also failed, 36-31.

Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, cast the lone dissenting vote when the House Appropriations and Finance Committee advanced the budget bill to the House floor in a 15-1 vote. She singled out the education component as not respecting local control then and again Tuesday, saying "This is not a political game."

"Democrats are playing politics with our education system - plain and simple," House Majority Leader Nate Gentry said in a statement.

Adopting a budget is a must-do assignment for lawmakers before the session adjourns March 21.