Lawmakers approve $7.6B budget after late night of debate

Politics - Government

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The state’s $7.6 billion budget is heading to the governor’s desk. The approval for the budget did not come easy as lawmakers debated into early Thursday morning with just a few hours to spare and ultimately avoiding a special session.

At around 1 a.m. on Thursday, the House agreed with the Senate’s updated version of the budget. The largest chunk of the money, about $3.5 billion, will go towards public education which includes a 4% pay raise for teachers.

Another big portion goes to health and human services, about $1 billion. Some of the governor’s wish list items have made the cut, lawmakers appropriating $320 million for early childhood programs.

A hot button issue was the Opportunity Scholarship. $17 million of the budget will help fund a portion of college tuition fees for two-year programs.

Senators tried to tweak the budget on Wednesday; fighting over additional money into the rainy day fund, state employee salaries, but the biggest battle was over the Opportunity Scholarship.

“So basically we are creating an opportunity scholarship but only for some,” said Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell). “So we’re creating an opportunity to become a philosopher or a doctor, but what about creating an opportunity to become a welder or a truck driver or an aviation mechanic? Or some other things we desperately need in the state?”

Both chambers will return to the floor on Thursday morning for the final day of the session.

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