Senator happy with 2006 session, budget

Guest Commentary By Stuart Ingle

The Legislature had an unprecedented opportunity to address many critical needs of the state and it vigorously grasped the opportunity with both hands during the session that ended last week.

We were very deliberate in our decisions. I believe the entire state will benefit from the responsible budget we passed.

We asked what our communities needed and we were able to satisfy many needs. We are in such a good position and we have a wonderful financial opportunity as a result of taxes on robust oil and gas revenues flowing into state coffers.

With all of that new money came a renewed commitment to make the best decisions for the people of New Mexico. I believe we were very successful and New Mexicans will really see a difference in so many areas of their lives.

Education for their children should improve, economic development should pick up and our communities should be safer.

I am pleased to report that a healthy portion of the windfall in revenue was set aside and not spent. The state is expected to have healthy reserves and an increase of $100 million dollars in the Severance Tax Permanent Fund to support schools and other future state expenses.

The total budget to run state government for fiscal year 2007 is $5.11 billion and nearly half of it is being invested in education. Our school children will certainly benefit from this boon of money coming into the state coffers. Our school children are our priority and that is clearly reflected in the budget the Legislature passed for 2007.

Public education would receive an increase of 8.4 percent, or $179 million more than current spending if the governor signs the budget.

School districts are to provide 5 percent pay raises for teachers and other school workers, and tier-three teachers would receive a minimum annual salary of $45,000.

On top of the budget increase and salary increases, there is $162 million available in capital outlay funds for our schools through the Public School Capital Outlay Council. This is the highest amount that has ever been available for the council to distribute; that means new schools will be built throughout the state and maintenance on our existing schools will take place. Higher Education has also received more than an 8 percent increase in its budget in the bill passed by the Legislature. Much of the increase is for pay raises of 4.5 percent for faculty and other employees.

We have accomplished quite a lot for higher education in our budget and students and professors at our colleges and universities will certainly benefit. We set aside $49 million in an endowment fund for scholarships for students who want to attend college but who cannot afford it. We set aside $20 million in an endowment fund for faculty and there is $80 million for the maintenance of our buildings and infrastructure at our colleges and universities.

On the health front, Medicaid will receive an 11.3 percent increase, or nearly $59 million new dollars for a whopping budget of $626 million. In an effort to keep our doctors in New Mexico, there will be a $16 million increase in provider rates to those who provide Medicaid services in our state. Rural health clinics will receive an additional $1 million, school-based health centers will receive an additional $2.5 million and health care for children and pregnant women will receive an additional $5 million. The aging network will also be boosted by $3 million.

To help keep the state safer, the Corrections Department will be increased 11 percent or $23 million for a total budget of $237 million. And state law-enforcement officers will receive a 16.4 percent salary increase if the budget is signed.

I am also pleased the nursing home bed tax, HB 365, did pass both chambers so the elderly in nursing homes will no longer have to pay the $9 a day tax.

The entire state should have many capital outlay projects if the capital outlay bill is signed by the governor. We will be seeing a lot of construction projects, a lot of economic development and the outlook for all of New Mexico looking very promising.

The state Legislature approved $762 million for various projects. With that amount of money being invested in our state, many needs will be met. There is $148 million for public schools, $100 million in water and environmental projects, $90 million for roads, $54 million for higher education, $33 million for Spaceport funding, $24 million for tribal infrastructure and $11 million for voting systems.

While I am satisfied that the bill I opposed and voted against — raising the minimum wage — did not pass this session, I am disappointed that my ethics reform bill, SB 23 related to anti-corruption in government, was killed in the House after the Senate had passed it unanimously.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, represents Curry, De Baca and Roosevelt counties. Contact him at 356-3088.