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GOP played games with outlay bill

As the 2015 Legislative Session came to a close, New Mexicans were left shortchanged as the Capital Outlay Bill, SB 159, failed to pass because of last-minute political games played by House Republican leaders. This is a regrettable outcome that should have New Mexicans demanding more from the Republican-controlled House.

Every year, the capital outlay bill provides critical funding for projects that directly improve the lives of New Mexicans. It’s the bill that pays for statewide and local infrastructure needs. This year’s bill passed the State Senate on a bipartisan vote and headed to the House for minor tweaks and changes.

Once the bill arrived in the Republican-controlled House, the problems and partisanship began. In an unprecedented move, House Republicans and Gov. Susana Martinez waited until the last afternoon of the session and gutted $80 million from the state’s capital outlay bill on a party-line vote, eliminating dozens of shovel-ready projects that would have provided thousands of needed jobs in Albuquerque and all across the state.

House Republicans cut 77 percent of funding from projects for senior citizens — projects that would have fed hungry senior citizens and fixed collapsing roofs in senior centers. Over $1.6 million was cut from Los Volcanes, Rio Rancho, and Tijeras Senior Centers, as well as from a critical home service program that reduces costly emergency room visits for seniors.

House Republicans also cut $11.4 million in funding for infrastructure projects in Native American communities, over $600,000 for local projects at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the NM Museum of Natural History, and funding for safety improvements to our courts and corrections facilities.

Cuts to higher education were especially shocking. In a stagnant economy, when it is imperative that we invest to create a more educated workforce, the governor and Albuquerque Republicans Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, Rep. Conrad James, Rep. Monica Youngblood and Rep. Paul Pacheco did the opposite and voted to slash 44 percent of funding for our colleges and universities.

Over $18 million dollars was stripped out, including cuts from physics, engineering, and health education at the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College and the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute.

Given these drastic cuts to critical programs, what were the new funding priorities? The answer may be surprising — $4.4 million for a new hangar at the spaceport and a $45 million credit card for highway improvements in southeast New Mexico.

Not only did House Republicans attempt to mortgage a hangar and road projects on the backs of our seniors, Native Americans, and colleges, they were just plain fiscally irresponsible. Instead of paying for road improvements in a responsible manner, the Republican amendment sought to borrow and spend for highway improvements when the state already has $1.4 billion in highway debt.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, House Republicans, who control the scheduling of bills, didn’t hear the controversial bill until the final hours of the session. This left virtually no chance for the Senate to consider it and prevented over $250 million from going into projects that would have created jobs and improved the lives of New Mexicans.

Democrats know that we must invest in higher education to move our state forward. We know we must fight to protect our seniors, students, and our Native American and rural communities, and we won’t shy away from the leadership necessary to build a secure future and a bright economy for all New Mexicans. There is too much at stake to be playing political games. New Mexico deserves better than the failed leadership of the Republican controlled House.

Also signed by the following Albuquerque Democrats: Rep. Debbie Armstrong, Rep. Gail Chasey, Rep. Andres Romero, Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Rep. Stephanie Maez, Rep. Christine Trujillo, Rep. Moe Maestas, Rep. Georgene Louis and Rep. Patricio Ruiloba.