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NM Teachers to Carry the Budget Burden?

March 9, 2009

Santa Fe, NM - They worry they might be asked to shoulder the burden of the state's budget woes. That's the message from New Mexico public school teachers in response to a bill (HB 854) in the budget package now being hammered out in Santa Fe. The measure would require teachers to pay an extra 1.5 percent of their salary into their retirement fund, and cut educators' and state employees' pay by 1.5 percent for two years.

Betty Patterson is a special education teacher in Las Cruces. She says taking pay away from teachers already struggling with higher insurance costs and other expenses could mean fewer teachers overall.

"It's going to hurt us so much that people will probably start looking at other states to go to teach."

Lawmakers who support the bill say it's important that public employees make sacrifices during these tough times like everyone else. Patterson says a more fair solution would be a modest tax increase that helps fund schools and provides a more stable source of revenue. One such bill was tabled by lawmakers late last week.

Reducing teachers' pay and benefits also will be felt throughout communities around the state, Patterson warns.

"It means that much more money that we can't spend in the community or on our families, or just on daily life."

Patterson understands the need for sacrifice until the economy recovers, but says many teachers are already in a tough spot.

"We have a lot of obligations, too. We also have families; many of us are single-parent families. To take it all out of our budgets is going to hurt us even more."

The bill (HB 854) could be heard in committee as soon as Tuesday.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM