Senate unanimous in budget vote

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SANTA FE (KRQE) – Gridlock in the House froze the state budget, but a compromise in the Senate may have unstuck the gridlock.

The Senate voted unanimously, 42-0, to approve a $6.2 billion budget bill and send it over to the House for approval.

The budget deal calls for $293 million in increased spending, up about 5 percent from last year.

A big sticking point for the budget had been education spending. Although overall education spending is set to increase about $171 million, Gov. Susana Martinez and Republicans had wanted more in state-managed education reforms, while Democrats had been pushing for more of that money to go directly to school districts.

Overall, $107 million is set to go to the “below-the-line,” state-managed education reforms, an increase of 56 percent compared to last year but $17 million less than the governor requested. Although there is $7.25 million that could be used for merit pay, a major problem for Democrats, those pay plans have to be requested by the school districts, approved by PED and don’t necessarily have to be merit pay.

The budget also calls for across-the-board pay hikes for state workers, including teachers. $11.5 million is earmarked to shore up the lottery scholarship fund.

The compromise was engineered by Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who had to step in after the House deadlocked 34-34 on a proposed budget that came to the floor. Senators negotiated the deal over the weekend before the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved the deal Sunday night.

Smith is optimistic both the House and Gov. Martinez will sign off on the spending plan especially in the face of a unanimous floor vote.

“Politicians are normally very sensitive to polling,” Smith said. “A 100 percent polling in the state Senate has to carry some weight.”

“While the Governor remains concerned about the overall spending growth in this budget and the adverse impact on state reserves, this budget does represent a compromise that properly acknowledges the importance of investing in education reforms and key job creation efforts,” said Governor Martinez spokesperson Enrique Knell in a statement.

The House has limited time to pick apart the deal. The session ends Thursday at noon.

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