Governor emphasizes police, teachers in budget

Morgan Lee
The Associated Press
New Mexico

SANTA FE — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez recommended increased spending on education and law enforcement under a $6.46 billion budget proposal unveiled Tuesday in Albuquerque.

The Republican governor wants to increase spending by $282 million, or 3.7 percent, over last year.

The biggest share of the new funding — $101 million — would go toward public education, including base pay increases for new teachers, performance-based incentives for veteran educators and stipends designed to recruit more capable college students to the teaching profession.

The governor's budget also includes targeted pay increases for prison guards, probation and parole workers, forensic lab technicians and child abuse caseworkers.

"Budgets are about priorities and values," said Martinez, flanked by Cabinet secretaries at offices for the state Corrections Department.

State lawmakers convene Jan. 19 for a one-month session to craft a budget. The entire New Mexico Legislature is up for election in the fall, and political gamesmanship will likely play into budget negotiations between a Republican-controlled House and the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Lawmakers will consider of long list public safety measures, including stiffer penalties for DWI, child pornography and repeat felony offenders, as well as constitutional reforms to the state's bail system.

"You know if we just stop thinking about politics and start thinking about what's best for New Mexicans, everybody wins," said Martinez, a second-term governor and former district attorney.

Martinez recommended keeping spending flat at two-thirds of state agencies, including her own office and departments overseen by the state auditor, treasurer, attorney general, land commissioner and utility regulators.

Some highlights of Martinez's spending plan:

Public safety

Martinez wants to spend an additional $11 million on targeted pay raises in public safety and child protection. The Corrections Department would receive $12 million to help address a growing prison population and treat inmates for hepatitis C with new medications that can cost tens of thousands of dollars per patient. About half of the state prison population is infected.

The Department of Public Safety would complete the third and final year of a competitive pay plan, as it attempts to add 27 new state police officers in the next fiscal year. More than $1 million would be devoted to clearing a statewide backlog of evidence kits from sexual assaults and rapes that provide DNA evidence to identify perpetrators.

Education and child welfare

The governor's budget would boost spending by $7 million on early childhood education, from pre-kindergarten through third grade. The budget would increase introductory teacher salaries for the third consecutive year to $36,000 to help compete with schools in neighboring states. It includes $10 million for a revamped program to improve reading instruction by deploying coaches at the habitually low-performing schools.

Martinez wants to hire more child abuse caseworkers and associated family outreach workers by providing an additional $8 million to the Children, Youth and Families Department.

Economic development and job creation

The "New Mexico True" tourism marketing campaign would get a $2.3 million boost. A job training incentive program would receive $10 million to support new businesses by paying a portion of worker salaries for up to six months.

The state would also replenish a $50 million fund to help pay for infrastructure projects that attract specific companies to the state. The funds are provided under the Local Economic Development Act. One-time spending of $1.25 million would go toward the state's Rapid Workforce Development Fund, which pays for worker training at community colleges to help attract business to the state.

Associated Press Writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.