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N.M. governor OKs spending boost on police, teachers

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New Mexico governor OKs spending boost on police, teachers

By MORGAN LEE and RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday signed a $6.3 billion spending plan that boosts funding for law enforcement and public education, while reluctantly embracing a bipartisan package of public safety reforms that she described as flawed.

Martinez said she was grateful the Legislature set aside more money for public prosecutors in Albuquerque and State Police raises, but was disappointed in the level of funding for business incentives.

She noted that spending on teacher salaries statewide will increase by $63 million during the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“I’m generally pleased with the budget that lawmakers sent to my desk,” she said at a news conference in Albuquerque. “We did all of this without raising taxes.”

The state Public Education Department was taken to court over accusations it fails to meet constitutional obligations to provide an adequate education for all students. Plaintiffs cited lagging academic proficiency and high school graduation rates that trail most of the country. A ruling is pending.

Martinez vetoed what she called wasteful spending proposals for a $50,000 bronze bust honoring a controversial Hispanic fighter in the U.S. Civil War and about $260,000 for an exhibit involving a robotic dinosaur at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. Infrastructure proposals were vetoed for state college campuses at Espanola, Gallup, Los Alamos and Las Vegas, New Mexico.

During a 30-day session that ended in February, lawmakers backed a package of public safety reforms designed to bolster police ranks, deter repeat drunken driving, increase gun-possession penalties for violent felons, and better address addiction and health issues among prison inmates as they are released.

Martinez, a former district attorney, voiced overall disappointment as she signed the reforms on Wednesday with a partial veto. She rejected provisions that would interfere with the state’s authority to suspend driver’s licenses for failures to appear in court.

In a written message, she said the Legislature was clinging to the status quo on public safety issues amid increased reports of crime in cities including Albuquerque.

Martinez declined to sign a renewable energy bill that would have reinstated state tax credits to offset the costs of solar energy systems for households, small businesses and farms, effectively vetoing the measure.

Martinez, who is leaving office because of term limits, says she will leave state government with strong cash reserves of more than $600 million as a buffer against any economic downturn. Less than a year ago, the state was wrestling with how to fill a budget gap by slashing agency spending after completely depleting cash reserves.

State government income has surged because of a sustained rebound in oil prices and major investments by oil and gas exploration. The state’s unemployment rate was down to 6 percent in December from 7.6 percent when Martinez took office in January 2011. Only Alaska’s rate is higher.

Burkett Shaw
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