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IN SESSION: Budget takes unique path

Senate taking the lead

February 17, 2014, 5:45 pm
By Matthew Reichbach
As state legislators get within three days of the end of the scheduled lawmaking session, there's still no agreement on a budget.

The budget bill has taken an unique path this year. Instead of originating in the House and moving next to the Senate, the House is deadlocked and a budget proposal appears heading for approval by the full Senate following a successful committee vote Sunday night. 

At issue is not necessarily the dollar amount -- which clocks in at $6.2 billion -- but where money is divided for various education goals.

Officials are arguing about how much cash stays "above-the-line" vs. "below-the-line."  The line is the school funding formula that allocates funds to districts depending on a pre-set criteria. Below the line are the targeted initiatives of the Public Education Department and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez such as merit pay for teachers and teacher evaluations.

Democrats support putting that money towards the State Equalization Formula that distributes the money to districts throughout the state and that they say keeps the funding fair.

The Senate version of the budget includes $17.5 million in additional below-the-line funding. It puts $7.2 million towards areas for teacher retention and merit pay, though language says not all of that money goes towards merit pay. It includes language that would allow school districts to opt out of merit pay.

Democrats say that such clarifying language would easily be line-item vetoed by Martinez and assert that there isn't enough oversight of the language.

In all, it would increase state spending by about $293 million.

According to a statement by a spokesman of the governor to the Albuquerque Journal, her office is still looking over the bill.
“We’ve been able to review part of the SFC budget proposal, but are continuing to review language and other aspects of it,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said. “There is, of course, a long way left to go in the process.”
The budget is due at noon on Thursday -- if no budget is passed by both chambers at that time, there would need to be a special session.

If there are two words that can prompt swift movement from the legislature and governor it is those two magic words.

The Senate is not likely to take up the budget tonight -- which means it will likely show up on Tuesday to give the House some sort of time to take care of it.

 

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