SANTA FE — New Mexico would make $55 million available for bonuses to help recruit and retain law enforcement officers across the state, under changes to a spending plan for $8.5 billion unveiled Saturday by a Senate committee.
The increased funding for officer hiring and retention stipends — the initial version of the budget bill called for $13 million for such incentives — comes after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham accused lawmakers of not taking enough violent crime seriously during this year’s 30-day legislative session.
Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said law enforcement in New Mexico currently often hires from the ranks of others and struggles to retain new recruits.
“One way or another, we have to recruit more officers,” he said, while adding that hiring 1,000 new officers statewide, as proposed by Lujan Grisham , would probably be an unattainable goal.
The proposed law enforcement recruitment allowances would be available for local governments to distribute over the next two years, provided they adopt a “community policing” strategy.
In addition, the spending plan being debated on Saturday would include steep pay increases of nearly 16% for state police officers.
“We don’t have enough police in the state of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said during a recent speech to Albuquerque business leaders.
The increase in wage rates is achievable due to an increase in state revenue generated by increased oil and natural gas production and an increase in consumer spending.
In total, the budget plan, House Bill 2, would increase state spending by just over $1 billion — or 13.9% — for the fiscal year that begins in July.
Teachers and state employees would also receive average wage increases of 7% under the plan, which would provide funding to establish a minimum wage of $15 an hour for these workers.
This proposed spending growth has caused unease among some lawmakers, even though the budget bill provided about $2.6 billion in cash reserves in case projected revenue levels do not materialize.
But Muñoz said he hopes investments in economic development initiatives — such as $50 million for a state “shutdown” fund — will pay off and help stave off future spending cuts.
Senate changes to the spending bill approved by the House last month would keep about $400 million available for tax cuts to be approved during this year’s session.
Several tax proposals are under consideration as the session enters its final week, including reducing the gross state revenue tax rate by 0.25 percentage points and exempting state income from tax. Social Security retirement for most New Mexicans.
But some lawmakers have said they would rather see some of the windfall from the state review go directly to taxpayers.
“I certainly support rebates to the people who helped build this,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, referring specifically to people employed in the oil and natural gas industries.
Lawmakers not only have a windfall of state tax dollars to spend this session, but they’re also sitting on more than $700 million in unspent federal relief funds.
Those dollars were the subject of a legal challenge last fall that pitted a bipartisan group of lawmakers against the governor’s office.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the Legislative Assembly in the dispute, ruling lawmakers have the power to make spending decisions about funding.
In that context, the revised spending bill would earmark $130 million of federal relief funds to bolster a lottery scholarship program so eligible students have all of their tuition covered for the next four years.
It would also target $247.5 million of those funds for freeway repair and construction around New Mexico, $20 million for improving highway rest areas statewide, and at least $20 million to begin construction of a media academy to train students for jobs in the film industry.
But that question came under scrutiny when Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, questioned budget language that said the media academy should be located in Bernalillo County.
The Senate Finance Committee has suspended voting on the proposed budget changes until the matter is clarified.
Meanwhile, among changes to the House-approved budget plan also included the addition of $15 million to lay the foundation for a new college of public health that would be a joint effort among the world’s top universities. State – the University of New Mexico and the State of New Mexico. University.
Several senators have called for even more funding for that purpose — a bill introduced during this year’s session carried a price tag of $75 million — amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has now lasted nearly two years. year.
Funders have argued that a school of public health would expand New Mexico’s access to research funding and give policymakers more data to make proactive spending decisions on health care programs.
Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, said the appropriation could also eventually produce hundreds of new public health professionals in New Mexico.
“This ownership is the transformative act to reverse New Mexico’s health outcomes,” Hickey told the Journal. “These funds will allow New Mexico to join almost every other state in having a true school of public health.”
The spending also illustrates investments in other areas, as lawmakers have described the state’s budget situation as an opportunity to funnel more money into programs aimed at addressing a shortage of teachers and nurses. statewide after several years of wildly fluctuating incomes in New Mexico.
But at least some senators also acknowledged that the windfall in state revenue may not last long.
“As we move forward, we will need to make sure New Mexico has a sustainable budget,” Muñoz said. “We may not – and probably won’t – have that money forever.”