SANTA FE, N.M. — Senate lawmakers in New Mexico recommended larger pay increases for judges, prison guards, and state police and greater spending at the district attorney’s office in Albuquerque amid growing concerns about urban crime.
The state Senate finance committee endorsed amendments to a House-approved general fund spending plan for the coming fiscal year. After two years of austere budget plans, rebounding energy prices and oil production are giving New Mexico lawmakers leeway to boost spending on public education, the judiciary, Medicaid and more.
The new $6.33 billion budget proposal would increase general fund spending by just over 4 percent for the fiscal year starting July 1.
That $259 million spending increase would leave the state with reserves equal to 10 percent of annual general fund spending. A major credit rating agency has said that’s enough for the state to withstand a mild recession or oil-industry downturn without disruption.
The district attorney’s office overseeing Albuquerque would receive a 16.5 percent operating budget increase. Additional money is set aside for a crime strategies unit and to prosecute violent crimes against children.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has stressed the need for more spending on the criminal justice system, public education and business incentives.
Martinez spokesman Larry Behrens said Saturday the administration was reviewing the new budget recommendations from the Democrat-led Legislature. The governor can veto the bill line-by-line or in its entirety.
Pay increases account for $90 million of the proposed new spending, including a 2 percent base pay boost for all state employees. On top of that, state police, prison guards and parole officers would get an additional 6.5 percent increase.
Judges, district attorney staff, public defenders, social workers and nurses would get an extra boost of between 2.5 and 4.5 percent.
School districts would receive enough funding to increase average teacher pay by 2.5 percent.
A 10 percent pay increase is proposed for elected officials in statewide offices and utility regulators on the Public Regulation Commission, to take effect in 2019.
The new budget plan directs $45 million to shore up a giant, man-made underground cavern in southern New Mexico. The cavity was left by the extraction of a salt formation underneath a crossroads at the edge of the small city of Carlsbad.
The Senate budget revisions add about $6 million to House-approved spending for state universities and colleges — a 1 percent spending bump.
The amended bill increases general fund spending on public education by $61 million in all.
Full Senate approval of the amended budget plan would send it back to the House for a concurrence vote. The Legislature has until noon on Thursday to send the governor a budget.