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House endorses $528M in spending for capital projects

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A capital spending package passed by the New Mexico House of Representatives Tuesday includes $4.1 million to plan and design a new stadium to host the New Mexico United soccer team. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A $528 million capital spending package moving through the Legislature would authorize funding to help plan for a professional soccer complex in Albuquerque and to preserve more open space near the oxbow wetlands on the city’s West Side.

But the proposal is also notable for what it doesn’t include. There’s no large infusion of funding specifically set aside to help Albuquerque build a homeless shelter that would be open around the clock seven days a week.

Mayor Tim Keller’s administration had sought $14 million in state funding for the “Gateway Center” homeless project – enough to match $14 million that city voters approved in the last bond election.

But the infrastructure package includes just $50,000 for the Gateway Center construction.

This is the second consecutive year the shelter failed to gain strong support from state leaders. City officials went to Santa Fe in 2019 seeking $28 million for the project and emerged with $985,000.

“Homelessness is often viewed as a city issue,” Keller spokeswoman Jessie Damazyn said in a written response to Journal questions. “The state legislature does not have a committee or interim sessions dedicated to homelessness, so this will be a multiyear effort to demonstrate to legislators that Albuquerque homelessness is actually a statewide issue, and growing.”

She said that the state could still come through with some additional shelter money before the legislative session wraps this week but that the city has enough to complete the shelter’s first phase, regardless.

The 2020 package does include $4 million for supportive housing for homeless, Damazyn said.

It also includes millions for public safety, including $6 million for dispatch and records management systems at the Albuquerque Police Department and $2.5 million for a crime scene vehicle.

“Based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks like legislators and the governor (Michelle Lujan Grisham) are stepping up with over $20 million for our biggest priority, public safety,” Damazyn said.

The public works package, House Bill 349, may still undergo some changes. It won approval 63-0 in the House without debate Tuesday and now moves to the Senate.

Both chambers must agree on identical language in the bill to send it to Lujan Grisham, who has line-item veto power.

As it stands now, the legislation would authorize about $528 million in spending on construction, the purchase of vehicles and equipment, and other capital projects.

The bulk of it is funded through severance tax bonds, which are backed by future tax revenue on the extraction of oil, natural gas or other natural resources. Some of the projects would be paid for with cash from New Mexico’s general fund or other sources.

Voter approval isn’t required.

The project list in House Bill 349 is a result of an unusual – and secretive – process in which legislators and the governor each have some discretionary money to dole out. Sometimes they combine their money to fund big projects. In other cases, lawmakers fund small projects in their districts. Proposals that would require additional transparency in the process have repeatedly stalled at the Roundhouse.

Among the projects for Albuquerque is $4.1 million that would go toward the design, planning and construction of a sports and cultural center, including art exhibits, playing fields and dining and retail space.

Supporters said the money could be applied to the effort to build a soccer stadium for New Mexico United, a professional team in Albuquerque.

United owner Peter Trevisani said the team is prepared to put about $1 million more of its money into the planning and design phase, which he said would include a site and project funding analysis.

“I think it’s a great start,” Trevisani said of the state allocation. “It shows a commitment to vetting the project, and I think with the city, state and the private sector all working together, this time next year we could be funding and getting close to breaking ground on a stadium.”

The team now plays at Isotopes Park but is looking for a permanent home. Trevisani said the working estimate for a 15,000-seat stadium is about $75 million, and it is unclear exactly how that money would come together. Trevisani said that it may require additional public investment but that other potential funding sources include naming rights and borrowing money backed by future stadium revenues.

State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said at least 20 lawmakers chipped in from their discretionary money to fund the stadium despite not knowing exactly where in Albuquerque it would be built. He said that his own contribution topped “a couple hundred thousand dollars” and that the Legislature’s support may be enough to purchase land at the preferred site.

Then, he said, it is up to the team, the city and Bernalillo County leaders to find a way to pay for the construction.

“There are so many creative financing mechanisms nowadays,” he said.

The many unknowns did not appear to hurt stadium support among lawmakers, but Maestas suggested the opposite was true for the city’s homeless shelter. He said a lack of concrete plans may have affected legislative funding. The city is still evaluating shelter sites, although Keller has said the goal is to break ground next winter.

“I think members are reluctant to put into a pot unless they’re for sure knowing that that pot is going to get spent in the next 12 months,” said Maestas, who did not contribute to the Albuquerque shelter. “Not only do these capital dollars provide services, but they also boost our economy, so those bigger projects are difficult. That may have come into play with regard to the support, but I don’t know that for a fact.”

The state capital package also includes about $4.6 million intended to go toward purchase of the Poole property on the city’s West Side for preservation as open space, a move aimed at saving it from development.

Gamma Development is currently working through the city approval process to build 69 homes on 23 acres above the Rio Grande’s oxbow wetlands. The city Environmental Planning Commission approved the project site plan last week.

Gamma’s Brian McCarthy declined to comment about the new state allocation, though his group last year spurned Keller’s attempt to negotiate a deal to preserve the property.

to build a payload processing center, information technology building and other improvements at Spaceport America in Sierra County

$2.8m

to work on a traffic relief route in the Carlsbad area, where the oil boom has stressed local roads and highways

$6m

to upgrade the computer-aided dispatch and records system for the Albuquerque Police Department

$1.8m

to improve the APD laboratory and evidence warehouse

$9m

for school bus replacement

$9m

for the Indian water rights settlements fund

$1.5m

to improve football facilities at the University of New Mexico

$2.5m

for affordable housing and homeless facilities in Albuquerque

$4.1m

for sports and cultural center in Albuquerque

$4.6m

for purchase of West Side open space

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