Lawmakers hand out $500 million for projects

By Barry Massey: The Associated Press

SANTA FE — More than a half-billion dollars in capital improvements will be financed across New Mexico under measures approved by the Legislature on Saturday and sent to Gov. Bill Richardson.

“I don’t think there is a corner of the state that we don’t touch with this,” Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, said before the House approved the financing bills. “We do make a difference.”

One measure allocates $348 million: $176 million for statewide projects designated by the governor and lawmakers; $57 million for those earmarked by House members; $57 million for Senate member projects and $58 million for projects earmarked by the governor.

The House and Senate unanimously approved the bill, sending it to the governor.

Most of the financing comes from bonds backed by severance tax revenues but about $129 million comes from the state’s cash balances.

A second bill provides nearly $224 million in capital improvements, including buildings at colleges and universities.

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle was happy to see more than $1 million for the county, including $850,000 for construction of the Curry County Special Events Center and $174,000 for county road improvements.

“I am very pleased,” Pyle said. “We have some great legislators. They know what our needs are, and they work to take care of them.”

Pyle, who is also mayor of Melrose, noted $500,000 for the village, including $250,000 for a fire department substation and $60,000 for a health care clinic.

Financing will come from general obligation bonds, which must be approved by voters in the November general election. Revenues from a property tax levy would back the bonds.
The capital outlay package is considered a must-do item of business by legislators because money is provided for thousands of projects across the state, including many in their communities.

Local projects range from upgrades at public schools and athletic facilities to water and wastewater systems and the purchase of vehicles for senior citizen centers.

By finishing work on the capital improvement package Saturday, lawmakers met a deadline to force Richardson to act on the bills before the end of the legislative session next Thursday.
The general obligation bond measure allocates almost $140 million for higher education projects, about $58 million for health facilities, nearly $15 million for senior citizen projects and $11 million to acquire books and equipment at public, tribal, school and university libraries.

The bill won final approval when the House agreed to a Senate-passed bill.

Among the projects financed by general obligation bonds is $9 million for renovation of a technology building at Eastern New Mexico University.

Even if the governor signs the measures, he can use his line-item veto powers to reject individual allocations of money sought by legislators for hometown projects.

Legislators want the option of trying to override any capital outlay vetoes before they adjourn.

CNJ staff writer Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.