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Governor wants more water projects

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez hopes to steer 60 percent of the state’s 2014-15 capital spending budget to water projects around the state.

With $186 million available to spend, Martinez said she will deliver an itemized list to the Legislature in January that would allocate $112 million of that to communities like Magdalena, Maxwell, Vaughn and Las Vegas, places particularly hard hit by drought and aging municipal infrastructure.

“Sound water infrastructure is essential for laying a solid foundation for economic growth,” Martinez said at a midday news conference Tuesday at the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque. “The state of our water infrastructure is a serious concern.”

In addition to the pipes, wells and sewage treatment systems that make up communities’ water supply systems, Martinez said her staff is in the midst of identifying dams and forest restoration projects that also are needed to help improve water supply reliability around the state.

Members of the construction industry, municipal government organizations and the New Mexico Rural Water Association joined Martinez at the news conference announcing the initiative.

Martinez’s proposal drew a cautious but supportive reaction from legislators Tuesday, who said they supported spending money on water projects but noted that they would be in competition for other important needs around the state.

“We can have discussions over the amount of money, but the importance of water is obviously there,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key player in Santa Fe budget debates.

The proposal grew out of work over the past year by the state Environment Department and other agencies to try to identify and prioritize community water problems around New Mexico as drought and aging water systems, especially in rural communities, cause a growing number of problems. A number of communities, including Maxwell, Vaughn and Magdalena, actually had their municipal water systems go dry.

The proposal could trigger a familiar tug-of-war between the executive and legislative branches in Santa Fe. Traditionally, the capital outlay money is split three ways, Smith explained, with the governor designating where a third of the money is spent, House members allocating a third and Senate members allocating the rest. Rather than taking that traditional approach, Martinez is trying to earmark 60 percent of the money for a single program.

That is not necessarily a deal killer, said Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa. “We’ll take a look at the projects,” Cisneros said.

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