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Legislature Will Consider Downs at Albuquerque Lease Extension

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The Downs at Albuquerque’s one-year lease extension with Expo New Mexico will be addressed in an upcoming special legislative session, Gov. Susana Martinez’s office said, even though it’s not clear whether legislative approval is needed.

Regardless, state Sen. Cisco McSorley said Martinez is ignoring a senate resolution passed in the last legislative session which called for the governor to appoint a task force to recommend alternative uses for the 96 acres the racino has leased from the state since 1985.

McSorley’s resolution also called for a moratorium on lease negotiations between Expo and the racino until the task force made its recommendations.

Citing a state law that requires legislative approval of any lease of state property that extends beyond 25 years and involves payment of more than $100,000, Sen. Tim Keller, an Albuquerque Democrat whose district includes Expo New Mexico, said the latest lease extension will not be legal unless the Legislature signs off on it.

“If they (the Downs) want an extension it’s going to be contingent on a public (request for proposals),” Keller said, adding that putting operation of the horse race track and casino out to bid is the only way to ensure the state gets the best deal possible.

As a state enterprise fund, the fairgrounds must pay for itself — a task virtually impossible without the Downs’ lease payments.

Expo New Mexico general manager Dan Mourning, who was appointed to his post by Martinez in March, announced earlier this month that he had worked out a one-year lease extension with the Downs to continue operating the racino until Jan. 11, 2013 — effectively extending the original lease into its 28th year to Jan. 11, 2013.

Under the contract, the Downs pays Expo $2.42 million for the lease, 10 percent of which can be paid with in-kind services like co-op advertising.

“While it could be argued that it’s not required, the governor has spoken to legislative leaders and does intend to ask the Legislature for its support ratifying the one-year extension during the special session later this year,” Martinez’s press secretary, Greg Blair, said in a statement Monday.

McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said the Republican governor is ignoring the Senate’s wishes.

“It appears the governor, as with everything else, is going to act unilaterally,” he said.

McSorley also said the special session — which Martinez has said she will call in the fall to address redistricting — won’t give lawmakers enough time to address the Downs’ lease at the state-owned fairgrounds.

He also said Albuquerque and Bernalillo County were left out of the lease negotiations.

“The governor is denying input to the very entities that will be affected by whatever agreement she decides to make with special interests,” McSorley said.

Legislative resolutions like McSorley’s are formal declarations concerning a particular subject lawmakers cannot or do not wish to control by law, but they require no action by the governor.

 

 

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