Byline: Tim Archuleta TRIBUNE REPORTER
SANTA FE -- House members have signed off on a $3 billion state spending plan that's sure to run into trouble in the Senate as well as Gov. Gary Johnson's office.
The House budget cuts in half the Senate's plan to spend an extra $130 million on schools. It also includes 2 percent pay raises for state workers, something Johnson didn't include in his budget.
Rep. Max Coll, the House's budget expert, says the spending plan is the best members could come up with given the state's tight finances.
"If you start with a sow's ear and you cut and stitch . . . you still end up with a sow's ear," said the Santa Fe Democrat who serves as chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
"It may not be a silk purse," he said, "but at least we turned it into a tube sock."
The spending plan, which would take effect July 1, increases overall state spending by about $138 million compared to this year's $2.9 billion budget. It also reduces the number of state employees by 88, according to Legislative Finance Council records.
State workers -- if they get the pay raises and if they're not in the group of 88 -- and schoolchildren are the big winners in the spending plan.
The losers: college and universities, which stand to lose $2.5 million, and most state agencies, because their budgets were either slightly cut or held flat.
Overall, the House budget provides $1.4 billion for public schools, $259 million for Medicaid and $90.1 million for courts.
The proposal was passed in two bills. One pays for state services such as courts, health care for the poor and higher education. The other pays for the state's public school system.
House Republicans opposed separating school spending from the rest of the state's budget.
"This is strictly politics," said Rep. Frank Bird, an Albuquerque Republican. "You've got to send the governor the total package."
If both bills don't make it to Johnson's desk at the same time, Bird said, Johnson may have to "send one of them back."
The governor's analysts are going over the budget with a fine-toothed comb, said Dan Hill, Johnson's legislative liaison.
They probably won't find much they like in it; most of Johnson's spending ideas are missing from the House budget.
For example, it does not include any tax cuts. Johnson proposed a $15 million income tax cut.
The Correction Department's budget also ignores Johnson's plans to reorganize the state's prison system.
"They are going to keep blocking the governor's agenda," said House Minority Whip Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque.
But House Speaker Raymond Sanchez said there wasn't enough money to make everyone happy.
"Under the current circumstances, this is a budget that does what it has to do," he said. "There are insufficient funds to do all the things we'd like."
HOUSE SPENDING PLAN
The $3 billion budget passed by the House Monday and on its way to the Senate includes:
* A 5 percent increase over the current $2.9 billion budget -- 1 percent more than Gov. Gary Johnson recommended.
* 2 percent average salary increases for public school teachers, college faculty and state workers, costing $21 million.
* Nearly $1.4 billion for public schools -- an increase of about $65 million. Included in that is $40 million to change the state formula that divvies money among school districts to make it more fair.
* $483 million for two- and four-year colleges and universities -- a cut of $2.5 million from the current budget.
* $90.1 million for state courts -- an increase of 4.5 percent.
* About $259 million in tax money for the rapidly growing Medicaid health care program for low-income people -- an increase of $73 million from the current budget. With federal money added in, next year's Medicaid budget will top $1.15 billion.