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Area lawmakers say House budget spends too much


Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Area lawmakers said Friday the $7.1 billion budget that passed the New Mexico House of Representatives Thursday contains good elements, but didn’t back the proposal because its spending increases are too large.

Rep. Greg Nibert

The General Appropriations Act of 2019, House Bill 2 (HB 2), would fund state government from June 30, 2019 to July 1, 2020 — Fiscal Year 2020.

HB 2 passed the House 46 to 23. Area representatives Jim Townsend of Artesia and Phelps Anderson, Greg Nibert and Candy Spence Ezzell of Roswell — joined their Republican colleagues to vote against the bill.

With a $2 billion surplus fueled by revenue from a surge in oil and gas production, HB 2 increases spending by 10.8 percent — or $684 million — from the FY 2019 budget.

HB 2 raises reserves to $1 billion or 22.4 percent of General Fund spending, and designates $700 million for capital projects, $60 million for a supplemental appropriations bill and $150 million to pay down the state’s film credit backlog, according to a report on the fiscal impact of HB 2.

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Anderson, a member of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee tasked with building the budget, said he and many of his fellow House Republicans feel HB 2 hikes spending too much, and that such a large increase is not prudent in a state reliant on oil and gas activity for much of its revenue.

“The governor advanced many new programs and expansion items and it adds up to too big of an increase at one time,” Anderson said in an interview Friday.

Nibert said he felt the budget did not do enough to keep spending in check.

“I’m pleased that we have the money to do some things and I am very concerned about the growth of government and I never want to encourage growth, and an 11-plus percent increase in the state budget and not holding the line on many of the agencies that they could not prove needed to grow, is problematic,” he said.

The biggest driver of spending in the budget is public education, which comprises 48 percent of FY 2020 general fund appropriations — a $449 million or 16 percent increase from the year before, according to a fiscal impact report on HB 2.

Public education spending includes a 6 percent increase pay raise for school employees in New Mexico, and allocates more funding and learning time for at-risk youth and pre-kindergarten.

Much of the increase in public education is meant to address a recent court decision, where a judge ruled the state’s school funding formula did not provide enough funding for at-risk student populations.

A separate piece of legislation proposed in the House will also include changes to the state’s school funding formula, according to the report.

The budget directs a total of $848 million for higher education in New Mexico and for the Department of Higher Education, a $44.5 million or 5.7 percent increase from the FY 2019 budget.

Despite his vote of opposition, Nibert said HB 2 does do some good. In addition to teacher pay raises and more money for public education, he said the budget provides additional resources for teacher recruitment to address the needs of the New Mexico Children Youth & Families Department.

HB 2 sets aside funds to improve some roads in southeastern New Mexico, such as Highway 285 south of Loving, and to install new passing lanes on Highway 380 that runs from Roswell east to Tatum, Nibert said.

HB 2 will next be taken up for consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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