Associated Press, Christina Rodriguez
Updated: February 20, 2020 12:23 PM
Created: February 20, 2020 06:52 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Thursday is the final day of the 2020 legislative session and lawmakers were cutting it close.
After the Senate turned in their reviewed budget to the House Wednesday, legislators had to beat the clock — and they did. The House approved the Senate's changes after midnight.
The state's budget for the 2021 fiscal year is $7.6 billion, which is more than a $500 million increase and the biggest amount in the state's history for a budget.
The budget sets aside $17 million toward an initiative by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that might eventually provide tuition-free education at public colleges to most students.
But fully funding the so-called opportunity scholarship for 55,000 in-state students would require a much larger appropriation of $45 million annually, according to the governor’s office.
Initial scholarships are reserved for full-time students pursuing two-year certificates of associate degrees, under language in the budget. Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell said former high school and college dropouts would unfairly be left out, as he launched a failed attempt to amend the bill.
The budget bill also places $320 million in an endowment fund designed to underwrite early childhood education programs with future investment earnings. The new funding also would go toward child protective services and counseling overseen by the Children, Youth and Families Department.
Record-breaking oil production in the southeastern corner of the state are behind an anticipated $800 million increase in state government income during the coming budget year. The windfall has only increased concerns that a recession or oil bust wound quickly erode public finances.
The surplus allowed lawmakers to increase spending on public schools by $216 million, or nearly 8%, to $3.5 billion for the coming school year. Salary hikes of 4% were approved for most teachers, public school staff, faculty and state government workers.
Legislators sent a bill to the governor that would pick up the tab for reduced-price lunches that are available to students living on the cusp of poverty, at a cost to taxpayers of about $650,000 annually.
Lujan Grisham can veto any portion of the budget or the entire bill.
The bill is now headed to the governor's desk for her signature. Lawmakers adjourned at noon Thursday.
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