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SANTA FE – A hefty $827.7 million package of New Mexico public works projects advanced at the Roundhouse on Tuesday, even as legislators voiced renewed concerns about large amounts of unspent infrastructure money from previous years.
While lawmakers last year required more disclosure of how so-called capital outlay funds are divvied up, recent attempts to fully overhaul the process for selecting projects have been unsuccessful.
Among other projects, this year’s capital outlay package, Senate Bill 212, includes $4.5 million for improvements at the State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque and $20 million for construction of a new New Mexico Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has urged lawmakers to approve $60 million for the construction of a new veterans home at the site of the current facility, after a legislative report last year found inadequate state oversight and staffing levels.
The New Mexico Veterans’ Home is the state’s only home for military veterans and their spouses. A COVID-19 outbreak at the facility led to the deaths of 28 individuals in late 2020.
Meanwhile, the capital outlay bill also includes money for school repairs, watershed restoration efforts and the construction of a new state government building
The measure passed the Senate on a 30-0 vote and now advances to the House for consideration.
But Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, the committee’s chairman, said the state’s process for funding infrastructure projects is inefficient and unwieldy, especially for lawmakers in rural parts of New Mexico.
“We cannot continue to do this — for me, it’s one of the worst processes we have,” Muñoz said.
As of October, there was $1.8 billion in funding for capital outlay projects authorized in previous years that had not been spent, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.
That dollar amount represents more than 3,600 different projects around the state.
Most public works projects in the package are funded by bonds backed by future tax revenue, though general state dollars are also used.
A separate $258.8 million package of projects at New Mexico higher education institutions, senior centers and libraries is also likely to win approval before lawmakers wrap up this year’s 30-day legislative session on Thursday.
Unlike the capital outlay bill, that package would be funded by general obligation bonds backed by property taxes and would require statewide voter approval in November.