By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
SANTA FE, NM (AP) – An expansion of undeserved college scholarships and greater spending to protect abandoned oil wells in New Mexico are among the governor’s new spending priorities, amid a windfall in state revenues related to federal pandemic relief and oil production.
September marks the start of the grueling process of drafting the Legislative Assembly’s budget for the year beginning July 1, 2022.
Several executive agencies overseen by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham are advocating for expanded services. Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said on Tuesday the trend was to “aim high” and “make the most of the opportunity we have to complete the work of rebuilding state government departments. after so many years of forced austerity “.
The Social Services Department suggests a spending increase of $ 100 million for Medicaid and related mental health services, for a total annual general fund spending of $ 1.26 billion for the program.
Government revenues for the next fiscal year are expected to exceed current annual spending obligations by $ 1.4 billion, or 19% of annual general fund spending obligations.
This leaves lawmakers with more money than ever to spend on education, roads, public safety, and other government programs.
The detailed spending targets of the Legislative Assembly’s Main Estimates Drafting Committee – focused on programs with effective and measurable results – are still months away from release.
The state agency that oversees oilfield permits and cleanup says its $ 82 million budget proposal would increase on-site inspection capacity and plug more orphaned oil and natural gas wells. It has been allocated less than $ 70 million for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2022.
The Department of the Environment is asking for a $ 7.1 million increase in general fund spending, an increase of about 45% over the current year’s spending of $ 16 million. The funds would help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector by implementing new energy efficiency standards and strengthening hydrogen infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles that do not need no tailpipe emissions, the Environment Ministry said in a statement.
Environmental regulators are also under pressure to extend food safety oversight to cannabis-infused products known as edibles, as the state legalizes recreational cannabis sales by April 1, 2022.
The Department of Social Services said the suggested increases in Medicaid spending would net the state $ 6.1 billion in annual federal matching funds.
Medicaid postpartum benefits would be extended for one year after childbirth, instead of six months. Over 70% of births in New Mexico are covered by Medicaid insurance for people living in poverty or at risk of being at risk.
Statewide Medicaid enrollments have increased by more than 100,000 people since the pandemic began in March 2020. About 44% of the population depends on Medicaid and the related children’s health insurance program.
Some lawmakers have warned that federal stimulus aid will not be there forever, urging colleagues to increase state reserves to guard against future budget deficits.
State higher education officials say they are seeking $ 48 million in credit for the governor’s “opportunity scholarship” initiative that will apply after other grants and scholarships to help attain college tuition-free. This would more than double the current appropriations.
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