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NM getting ‘critical funding’ for labs, bases, WIPP

WASHINGTON – A massive spending bill sent to President Barack Obama over the weekend contains billions of dollars for New Mexico.

The legislation contains money for Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, an ongoing repair effort at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, military bases, technology transfer, water projects, counties with large tracts of untaxable federal lands and other programs.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats, said they voted for the legislation passed by the Senate late Saturday because it contained money critical for New Mexico, even though they objected to provisions that altered rules for campaign finance and Wall Street banks.

“This bill includes critical funding for New Mexico, to sustain our national labs and military bases, continue recovery at WIPP, and ensure New Mexicans can count on basic government services like schools, public safety, roads and so many other needs,” Udall said. “I’m extremely disappointed that this bill also contains measures that weaken campaign finance laws and roll back Wall Street reforms. Our duty is to the American people – not Wall Street billionaires and bankers. But at the end of the day, I could not risk a government shutdown.”

Heinrich said the good in the bill outweighs the bad.

Democratic Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham both voted against the spending bill, while Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., voted for it.

Lujan Grisham said the bill was fatally flawed.

“While I hoped to vote for a clean spending bill that invests in New Mexico priorities like Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base, I could not support legislation that puts the interests of big banks and billionaires ahead of college students who are drowning in debt, homeowners that are still facing foreclosures and retirees and working Americans who lost everything because of the reckless activities of the ‘too big to fail’ banks,” Lujan Grisham said.

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said the bill was a mixed bag but that its positive provisions were worthy of support, including language to slash the IRS budget and prevent new fees for farmers and ranchers whose stock grazes on federal land.

“Passing the spending bill as our last order of business this year was critical, as it will provide certainty and stability for New Mexico businesses through the next fiscal year,” Pearce said.

Some of the money contained in the bill, according to Udall’s office:

Payment in lieu of taxes program for counties: The PILT program is funded at $442 million. The total will be divided according to a formula determined by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Last year, New Mexico counties received $37 million.

WIPP, Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories: The bill provides $320 million for WIPP, including the administration’s original funding request of $220 million. The additional $100 million is designated for cleanup from a radiological accident and equals the estimate DOE has provided for FY15 recovery activities at WIPP.

B61 Life Extension Project at Sandia and Los Alamos: At $643 million, the bill fully funds the B61 LEP for fiscal year 2015 and supports recent job increases at Sandia.

LANL cleanup: $185 million

Technology Transfer: $4.8 million for technology transfer efforts at the Department of Defense, $2.1 million above the president’s request, plus an additional $10 million for a regionally focused technology transfer innovation pilot program, requested by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

Military/Defense Cannon Air Force Base: $23.3 million for a Squadron Operations Facility; Kirtland Air Force Base High Energy Laser: $14 million for high energy laser research initiatives, $1.0 million more than the president’s request; Kirtland Air Force Base Operationally Responsive Space Office: $20 million. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):

The legislation includes a total of $159.1 billion, $1.8 billion above the enacted fiscal year 2014 level.

Rural Health: $209 million to help address new costs related to the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, including hiring medical staff, expanding facility capacity and allowing rural veterans to seek care outside the VA system.

Oversight: To help address problems related to the “wait list” scandal at the VA in New Mexico and elsewhere, Udall pushed for additional funding for the VA Office of Inspector General. The agreement increases funding by $5 million over the fiscal year 2014 level to provide the resources necessary to continue the office’s audits of hospital appointment scheduling and lapses in patient care.

Water Projects: Navajo-Gallup Project: The bill provides $81 million for the construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project and the historic 2010 Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement. The project will supply water to the eastern portion of the Navajo Nation, the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the city of Gallup, serving the future water needs of approximately 250,000 people.

Other Water Settlements: Aamodt: $3 million; Taos Pueblo: $4 million; Middle Rio Grande: The bill includes a provision encouraging development and implementation of the Water Acquisition Program along the Middle Rio Grande and San Juan Chama Projects and the Physical Habitat Restoration and Management efforts along the San Acacia Reach consistent with fiscal year 2014 activities.

Wildfire suppression and prevention: Hazardous fuels reduction activities, $526 million total nationwide.