Home State/Regional News New Mexico governor seeks funding for universal preschool

New Mexico governor seeks funding for universal preschool

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sounded a rallying cry Tuesday to increase state spending on public education including preschool and encouraged allied Democratic lawmakers to revive initiatives on gun control, pay equity for women and climate-change regulation that stalled under her Republican predecessor.

In her first State of the State address, Lujan Grisham pressed for support of a 6 percent increase in teacher salaries and efforts to tap a multibillion-dollar state trust to provide greater access to preschool. Greater withdrawals from the Land Grant Permanent Fund would require approval of the Legislature and a statewide vote.

“This is the session, this is the year, this is the moment we put New Mexico on the path to universal pre-K for every New Mexico child,” Lujan Grisham told a joint session of the House and Senate.

New Mexico’s political landscape shifted in November when Democrats consolidated control of all statewide elected offices and the state delegation to Washington. They also expanded their state House majority by eight seats.

Lujan Grisham on Tuesday described the state’s $7.50-an-hour minimum wage as a “poverty wage” that needs to be increased gradually to $12, with additional increases tied to inflation.

The speech also included endorsements for a list of gun safety provisions, spurring concerns among Republican lawmakers.

“I expect tighter restrictions on safekeeping to ensure children do not have access to firearms in the home,” she said. “With common-sense reforms, we can build a state where people who should not have firearms, don’t. As simple as that.”

No mention was made by the governor of Democrat-led efforts to authorize recreational marijuana, though she announced pending administrative approval of medical cannabis to treat opioid addiction.

On public education, Lujan Grisham has proposed a roughly half-billion dollar increase in spending from the state general fund for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1.

A state district court judge has ruled that New Mexico is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide adequate educational opportunities, especially when it comes to vulnerable children from low-income, Native American and other minority families. The court has set a mid-April deadline to review state funding and reform efforts.

“I didn’t need to read a judge’s order to know that we can do more, that we can do better,” she said. “In fact, we must.”

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, called Lujan Grisham’s educational proposals “ambitious” and said most Republicans want fixes for the struggling public education system.

“I’d like to see where the money would come from,” Baldonado said. “We need to see more details.”

State government income is expected to surpass current annual spending obligations by $1.1 billion for the coming fiscal year — or 17 percent of the current annual general fund budget.

On Tuesday, Lujan Grisham highlighted initiatives to boost funding to the state’s Indian Education fund and $55 million in additional spending on bilingual and multicultural programs. Native Americans make up about 10 percent of the state population.

“Together, we will hold up this state’s diversity as our strength and our lifeblood. Let our unique multicultural identity be a shining light for this country,” she said.

In all, Lujan Grisham has recommended a 12 percent, $800 million increase in state general fund spending for the coming fiscal year. The state’s lead budget-writing committee is suggesting more modest increases in spending.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said the state budget surplus provides a unique opportunity to combat poverty and improve schools. He spoke in favor of mandating paid family leave and greater guarantees to health insurance for patients.

In 2017, roughly 27 percent of New Mexico children were living in poverty as defined by the federal government.

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