The results of the 2019 legislative session are evidence of what can happen when your elected leaders work together to serve the people of New Mexico. Together, the executive, the House, and the Senate developed a spending plan, essentially intact after the governor’s partial vetoes, that prioritizes those issues most important to New Mexicans and effectively addresses the concerns of the lawsuit that successfully challenged the adequacy of New Mexico schools.
Under the 2019 General Appropriation Act, most state agencies will see significant increases after years of being starved of the resources necessary to adequately provide services, and state and higher education employees will see an average 4 percent pay increase.
More specifically, spending for the state’s public colleges is up 4.3 percent, and the Corrections Department will see an increase of 4.9 percent. A 7.1 percent increase for the Health Department primarily will be used to provide services to more New Mexicans with developmentally disabilities, including infants and toddlers. The 10.4 percent increase for the Children, Youth and Families Department will allow for the expansion of child protective services and prekindergarten.
Between public school spending on prekindergarten and the increase for the Children, Youth and Families Department, an estimated 3,500 more children will have the option of attending free, full-day kindergarten. In addition, tens of millions of new dollars will go to scholarships and wage subsidies for early childhood educators, childcare subsidies, and home visits to new families, an intensive parenting education program.
Perhaps most significantly, the state budget bill includes a 16 percent jump in spending on public schools. Along with other legislation, public schools will see a total increase in state funding of nearly 50 percent.
With that funding and a companion education reform bill, spending will nearly double for students at risk of failing because of income, English proficiency, or transience; schools will have the option of adding, and receiving funding for, 10 more school days to the regular school year, after-school programs, and the successful summer program known as K-5 Plus; and all school employees will see pay increases of at least 6 percent, with an estimated 5 percent more for teachers at schools that extend learning time and 14 percent more for teachers at schools that provide K-5 Plus.
In addition, new – higher – minimum salaries for teachers, counselors, and principals will mean those who, after the 6 percent raise, still fall short of those minimums will see even larger increases.
Beyond the reforms required by the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit that resulted in the finding that New Mexico schools are inadequate and fail at-risk students in particular, research shows the best school systems in the world have strong early childhood systems, highly skilled, well compensated teachers, and robust career and technical education options all together in a well-integrated system that serve children from birth to college- or career-readiness. Along with legislation addressing multiculturalism and career and technical education, the state budget and the education reform bills will move New Mexico dramatically forward on building a world-class education system.
Further, the Legislature provided more than a billion dollars for road and other infrastructure and public construction projects statewide, an infusion that will not only address long-neglected projects but will ripple through the state’s economy, and partially tackled tax reform to create stable revenue streams for New Mexico and decrease reliance on the volatile oil industry.
Importantly, these increases are well within New Mexico’s means. With all spending and revenue bills accounted for, New Mexico will have an estimated $1.44 billion in in its general fund reserve, an amount equal to 20 percent of planned spending and well within the cushion economists say will allow the state to weather an economic downturn.
Extraordinary revenues from a boom in oil made it possible for the Legislature and the executive to move boldly into education reform and restoration of state services, but it was rare collaboration and cooperation between the two branches that turned the 2019 session into a success for the people of New Mexico.
Representative Patricia Lundstrom, executive director of the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation, has served in the New Mexico Legislature representing McKinley and San Juan counties since January 2001. She is chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and vice chairwoman of the Legislative Finance Committee. She is also a member of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee.