[House Appropriations & Finance Committee] last year, and the very first meeting we had to start dealing with cutting and sweeping,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup.
Unions representing teachers and state workers applauded the call for modest raises. They pointed to high vacancy rates in many areas of government, and they said services have been negatively affected in everything from public safety to health care.
“This is an important recognition that we are struggling to deliver those services, whether it’s income support or corrections or at the [Children, Youth and Families Department] or even the Department of Transportation,” said Miles Conway, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18.
The state has not increased pay for all employees since 2014, though some workers, such as corrections officers, have received raises.
Advocacy groups praised plans to increase funding for Medicaid and early childhood education.
“These two programs are not only critical for the well-being of New Mexico’s children and hardworking families, but they are also important to the state’s economy,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a liberal advocacy group.
The Martinez administration says its budget would boost the state’s reserves to nearly 10 percent, while the Legislature’s plan calls for reserves of 8.4 percent.
That is a big rebound after the state depleted $700 million reserves in recent years to balance the budget.
But some lawmakers say New Mexico needs a big financial cushion to be prepared for fluctuations in the oil and gas markets.
“This is a very cautious budget,” said Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque.
“Oil right now is $62 a barrel. We may be in for an increase in revenues,” he said.
But, Larrañaga said, if that’s the case, much of that new money would go into a revenue stabilization fund, which was created last year, and would not be available for immediate spending.
Even with a brighter financial outlook, the governor and legislators seem poised to clash over other issues, including tax reform.
Martinez renewed calls for overhauling the tax code but told reporters her administration is still weighing specific proposals.
Though she opposed raising taxes, she also said: “I am not opposed to closing loopholes.”
Her administration, for example, is proposing to charge nonprofit hospitals the state’s gross receipts tax.
Democrats have cast doubt on whether legislators can pull off substantial tax reform in a 30-day session.
And a leading House Republican was quick to say his caucus wants a broader overhaul of the state’s tax code, not piecemeal proposals, signaling that getting to an agreement could be no less unwieldy this year than last.
“Our members continue to overwhelmingly oppose any tax increases, including an increase on nonprofit hospitals, that are not part of a meaningful tax reform package,” said House Republican Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington.
Could these issues be enough to cause another political crisis like last year, when Martinez vetoed funding for New Mexico’s universities amid an impasse with Democratic legislators?
Asked if she would veto a budget without tax reform, Martinez said: “Of course I’m going to sign a budget.”
“The people of New Mexico,” she said, “deserve to live with some certainty.”
Steve Terrell contributed to this report.
Copyright 2018, Santa Fe New Mexican (http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/governor-legislature-unveil-budget-proposals-with-raises-for-state-workers/article_2847bf5e-60dc-5990-bbc9-c7d9f4f7d421.html)