Gov. Susana Martinez signed legislation on Monday that reduces funding for most state agencies by 5 percent, but she vetoed $22 million in cuts to K-12 education.
The vetoed cuts to so-called “below-the-line” education funding — dollars that aren’t run through the state’s equalization formula — included money for the governor’s teacher merit pay program in addition to things like elementary school breakfasts, after-school and summer programs, and stipends for teachers in difficult-to-staff districts.
Lawmakers, Martinez wrote in her veto message, “attempted to gut classroom spending and programs designed to identify and assist struggling schools and students.”
“This is not the balanced, thoughtful approach needed to address these difficult times, which is why I have vetoed these cuts,” she wrote.
In signing Senate Bill 9, Martinez left in place an across-the-board 1.5 percent funding cut for K-12 education. The bill also reduces funding for most state agencies and higher education by 5 percent. The cuts were part of a package of bills lawmakers approved in the recent special session aimed at addressing a state budget shortfall of several hundred million dollars. Martinez has now acted on all legislation from the session.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said he wasn’t surprised by the governor’s veto of the education cuts, which protects some of her pet projects. He wanted to cut recurring funds to stabilize the budget for future years, and the $22 million Martinez vetoed didn’t accomplish that, he said.
“When you look at the whole solvency package, too much of that package was put together with non-reccuring money,” Smith said.
Still, the $22 million in cuts helped the Legislature’s solvency package create an estimated cash reserve of about $50 million. Because estimates are often off, without that $22 million, Smith said the state is essentially operating without any reserves — which concerns him.
Martinez, in her veto message, wrote that the education cuts she vetoed “are the programs that provide meals to our students in poverty, place in-demand social workers in middle schools, cover the costs of advanced placement (AP) exams and Preliminary SAT (PSAT) fees, and offer strategic pay increases to our state’s top performing teachers— among other initiatives our students and teachers have come to rely on.”
“To make cuts as deep as the legislature proposed in SB9 would be to abandon our goals in education reform, and to abandon our schools and students as they strive to meet them,” Martinez wrote.
While vetoing the $22 million, Martinez wrote that her administration would voluntarily reduce spending on those programs by $4.5 million.
She criticized lawmakers for not making other cuts — such as sweeping school districts’ cash reserves and drawing from lawmakers’ own retirement fund. Smith said the governor initially wanted to take more than half the money in school district cash funds — $120 million in total.
The Senate, with Smith’s backing, approved a $25 million sweep of those funds, but House Republicans stripped that cut from the bill.
Smith also noted that lawmakers approved cutting $1.5 million in money that was directed for the legislators’ retirement fund and said Martinez’s criticism on that front confused him.
Martinez signed another piece of legislation Monday — Senate Bill 12, which funds the recent special session. The governor waited weeks to approve that funding, which Smith said has delayed paying legislative staffers and giving per diem to lawmakers, who aren’t paid a salary for their work.
“I don’t care whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, there’s some resentment,” Smith said. “She needs to be building bridges… and she’s not doing that.”