SANTA FE – In the wake of a string of high-profile violent crimes and staffing concerns within the state’s prison system, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez called for putting more money toward public safety and law enforcement as part of a $6.46 billion budget proposal unveiled Tuesday.
Martinez told a room full of reporters and law enforcement officials that keeping New Mexicans safe was one of her top priorities. The others include improving public education and creating jobs by diversifying the economy and supporting small businesses.
The governor said despite the decline of oil and gas revenue, the state would be able to afford the additional investment in public safety and education by keeping most other spending relatively flat.
“Budgets are about priorities and values,” Martinez, flanked by key members of her cabinet, said during a news conference in Albuquerque.
The biggest share of the increase – $101 million – would go toward public education, including base pay increases for new teachers, performance-based incentives for veteran educators and stipends designed to recruit more capable college students to the teaching profession.
The governor’s budget also includes targeted pay increases for prison guards, probation and parole workers, forensic lab technicians and child abuse caseworkers.
In a statement, the Democratic Party of New Mexico said the governor’s budget proposal overlooks many issues of poverty and unemployment, while indicating support for the governor’s early childhood education initiatives.
State lawmakers convene Jan. 19 for a one-month session to craft a budget. The entire Legislature is up for election in the fall, and political gamesmanship will likely play into budget negotiations between a Republican-controlled House and the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Lawmakers will consider a long list public safety measures, including stiffer penalties for DWI, child pornography and repeat felony offenders, as well as constitutional reforms to the state’s bail system.
“You know if we just stop thinking about politics and start thinking about what’s best for New Mexicans, everybody wins,” said Martinez, a second-term governor and former district attorney.
Some highlights of Martinez’s spending plan:
Aside from the pay raises for public safety and child protective workers, the Corrections Department would receive $12 million to address a growing prison population and pay for costly new medications to treat inmates for hepatitis C. About half of the state prison population is infected.
The Department of Public Safety would complete the final phase of its competitive pay plan as it attempts to add 27 new officers in the next fiscal year. State spending reserves would be tapped to clear a backlog of evidence kits from sexual assaults and rapes.
The governor’s budget would boost spending by $7 million on early childhood education. Aside from teacher pay increases, it also includes $10 million for a revamped reading program to deploy coaches at habitually low-performing schools.
Martinez also wants to hire more child abuse caseworkers and family outreach workers by providing an additional $8 million to the Children, Youth and Families Department.
The “New Mexico True” tourism marketing campaign would get an extra $2.3 million, while a job training incentive program would receive $10 million to support new businesses.
The state would also replenish a $50 million fund to help pay for infrastructure projects that attract specific companies to the state. The funds are provided under the Local Economic Development Act. One-time spending of $1.25 million would go toward the state’s Rapid Workforce Development Fund, which pays for worker training at community colleges.