Veto pen ready, Lujan Grisham prepares to review capital outlay package - Albuquerque Journal

Veto pen ready, Lujan Grisham prepares to review capital outlay package

North Domingo Baca Park. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — A plan to harness New Mexico’s cash windfall to finance $1.2 billion in capital projects is on its way to the governor’s desk.

And unlike most bills, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has line-item veto power to reject parts of the legislation and approve others, rather than just signing or vetoing the bill as a whole.

She told reporters this week that she may strike funding that isn’t enough to finish a project or otherwise cannot be spent effectively in the next year.

In other words, there’s no need to approve $1 million for a project can’t move forward because it’ll actually cost $2 million.

“I’m looking for stuff that finishes a project,” Lujan Grisham said of her plans for reviewing the capital legislation.

She she’ll be skeptical, she told reporters this week, of “underfunded” projects in which the appropriation isn’t going “to do anything for someone.”

Backlog of New Mexico projects

Analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee have highlighted the challenge of effectively administering the massive influx of capital funds.

The state government, analysts say, already has historically high balances of unspent capital funds and difficulty finishing projects “due to rising construction costs, supply chain issues, and labor constraints.”

At one point last year, the state had $3.3 billion in appropriated but unspent capital outlay funds — a backlog that’s grown sharply over the last several years.

Just looking at the capital outlay legislation, it isn’t easy to pinpoint which line items might be in jeopardy under Lujan Grisham’s criteria. The bill identifies projects and how much money is earmarked for them, but without context on how much the overall project will cost and whether other funding is in place.

At stake in ABQ

A host of big-ticket items in Albuquerque are in the capital package, including:

■ $9.9 million for the Gateway Center at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson, where the city is building a homeless shelter and hub for services. At least part of the Gateway Center is expected to open in May, and longer-term plans include a medical sobering center and a medical respite unit for people who have no home in which to recover from illness or injury.

■ $6.2 million toward construction of the long-awaited aquatic center at North Domingo Baca Park. A city spokeswoman said this week the project is expected to cost $56 million and about $31 million is now available.

■ $5.1 million for a regional outdoor sports complex at Mesa del Sol.

The state typically borrows money to pay for capital projects by issuing bonds. But the state has so much revenue this year that it’s planning to use cash this time.

The governor’s line-item veto power is reserved for measures appropriating money, a category that includes capital outlay and budget bills.

Lujan Grisham has until April 7 to act on bills passed in the final three days of the session.

Dan McKay: dmckay@abqjournal.com

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