House Republicans propose budget plan with rebates

SANTA FE — In a rare move for the minority party, House Republicans have unveiled an alternative spending plan to a Democratic-backed $7 billion budget proposal that’s expected to be voted on tomorrow by the full House.

House GOP members acknowledged it’s unlikely their plan will move forward, as Democrats hold a 46-24 majority in the chamber.

But the Republicans said New Mexicans should at least be presented with an alternative to a budget bill they described as unsustainable.

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“We are being asked by families in our districts to be the rational voices in Santa Fe,” Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, told reporters.

The $6.6 billion budget plan proposed by House Republicans would use part of an unprecedented state budget surplus to give $200 rebates to every New Mexico resident.

The state last issued direct rebates to residents in 2008, during the final years of then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s tenure.

Overall, the GOP budget plan would increase state spending by roughly $300 million — or 5 percent — over current levels.

The Democratic-backed plan that cleared in a key House budget-writing committee earlier this week calls for a bigger spending increase of $684 million — or about 10.8 percent.

The Republican plan would provide 6 percent pay raises to state teachers and other education professionals, just like the Democratic-backed plan.

But it’s total spending on New Mexico’s public school system would be less than under House Bill 2, the official budget bill.

That’s because the House GOP plan would not include spending proposals like expanded school years for districts with high numbers of low-income students, as the other plan would.

It would also not provide salary to all state workers — just teachers and employees in some hard-to-staff agencies.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, said education spending should not tie local districts’ hands and should be targeted wisely.

“The thing that matters is that we create programs that are sustainable,” Dow said.

Top-ranking Democrats have defended their budget plan as fiscally prudent, pointing out it would leave a projected $1.6 billion in cash reserves at the end of the coming budget year — or 22 percent of state spending.

House Republicans held a majority for two cash-lean years — from 2015 through 2016 — before Democrats reclaimed control of the chamber after the 2016 election cycle.

They plan to propose their budget in a procedural move on the House floor during debate on the Democratic-backed plan.

The budget that’s ultimately adopted by the state House will move over to the Senate with just over three weeks remaining in this year’s 60-day session.

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