Bulging budget passed

By Barry Massey: The Associated Press

o Spokesman says governor undecided on signing
$5.1 billion measure.
SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson is withholding judgment on a nearly $5.1 billion budget measure that won final approval in the Legislature on Tuesday.

Richardson, who had sharply criticized earlier budget proposals by lawmakers, declined to say whether he will accept or reject the spending measure.

The Legislature is set to adjourn Thursday, and crafting a budget the governor can accept is a must-do assignment for lawmakers if they want to avoid returning to work in a special session.

The governor will have until early March to make a decision on whether to sign the budget into law, veto it completely or cut individual spending items with his line-item veto powers.

“Governor Richardson will analyze the budget to determine whether it fully addresses critical needs in children’s health, safety and education. At first glance, the Legislature comes up short in key areas,” said Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Richardson.

The budget headed to the governor after it cleared the House Tuesday on a voice vote. The Senate approved the compromise measure late Monday.

The measure provides for an 8.9 percent or $418 million increase in spending from the state’s main budget account for public education and general government operations in the 2007 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The proposed spending is about $18 million higher than spending in Richardson’s budget recommendations to the Legislature.

Almost 60 percent of the budget covers operations of public schools and higher education.

Also Tuesday, a nearly $46 million spending bill — called the “junior budget” — won final approval and headed to the governor.

The measure allocates money for several programs and projects earmarked by individual legislators and the Richardson administration. Those range from $75,000 for equipment to Webcast legislative proceedings to nearly $3.9 million to extend prenatal care to more low-income women.

Some provisions in the junior budget supplement what lawmakers provided for government operations in the main budget bill.

For instance, an extra $2 million is provided for pay raises for state police and other officers in the Department of Public Safety. The combined appropriations of money translate into salary increases of more than 16 percent.

Richardson complained throughout the session that lawmakers were shortchanging many of his health and education proposals in his self-proclaimed “year of the child” agenda.

During the weekend — in an attempt to prod the Legislature to address his objections — Richardson assailed the Senate and warned he might call a special session.

House and Senate negotiators developed the final compromise budget measure, adding $15 million for administration initiatives.

Lawmakers say they have funded about three-quarters of the governor’s requests with money allocated in the main budget and the so-called junior budget bill.

Rep. Henry Kiki Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, chairman of the Appropriations and Finance Committee, said negotiations on the budget measure were “probably the hardest I’ve ever been to.” He said representatives of the governor were involved in the budget talks.