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Dems Push Smaller Capital Outlay

SANTA FE – How much money to spend on statewide public works projects – or capital outlay – has joined the list of debates in the special legislative session at the state Capitol.

Gov. Susana Martinez is pushing New Mexico lawmakers to approve a list of projects, ranging from new State Police vehicles to renovations of state government buildings, featuring a price tag of $213 million during the ongoing special legislative session.

However, some top-ranking Democrats have expressed concern that spending the entire amount of severance tax bond capacity, the funding source for most capital projects, might be fiscally unwise.

Gov.’s proposal
The Martinez administration has proposed dozens of statewide projects designed to improve public infrastructure while giving a boost to the state’s construction industry. Here are a few highlights from the list:
•  Statewide road and highway maintenance – $42 million.
•  Renovations at the Manuel Lujan Sr. Building in Santa Fe – $10 million.
•  New heating and air conditioning systems at three state-run prisons – $10 million.
•  Purchasing new State Police vehicles and equipment – $4 million.

Instead of signing off on Martinez’s plan, they are assembling their own pared-down package of projects, totaling about $81 million.

“I’m not certain we want to dwindle that away,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said of the bonding capacity available to the state.

Specifically, Smith said he’s concerned the state could face higher-than-expected debt payments in coming years on some already-finished projects, such as Albuquerque’s Big I.

However, Martinez’s office said the first-term governor believes the entire list of projects should be approved.

“Passing capital outlay now does not preclude the Legislature from approving additional capital projects in January, and the governor intends for capital to be a part of that upcoming session,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said Friday.

He said passing a capital outlay package during the special session would be an economic boost for the state’s construction industry: “That will allow new workers to be hired during the fall and winter seasons, the slowest time for an already struggling industry.”

Lawmakers failed to pass a capital outlay bill on the final day this year’s 60-day regular session, in part because of a filibuster launched by Senate Republicans who were upset one of Martinez’s education bills had not been voted upon.

Severance tax bonds are backed by oil and natural gas taxes paid to the state. The amount of bonds that can be issued is determined yearly based on outstanding debt levels and projected incoming revenue.

Debate on the capital outlay issue has led to at least one of Martinez’s frequent foes to support the governor’s push for a larger package of infrastructure projects.

Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, said passage of the bill would represent a much-needed injection for the state economy.

“There are communities throughout New Mexico that can’t wait any longer to benefit from the millions of dollars put toward rebuilding our infrastructure and creating local jobs,” Griego said earlier this week.

Griego said he hoped action on the capital outlay package would be taken by Friday.

However, lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives had yet to vote on either the full or partial project list as of Friday evening.
— This article appeared on page A3 of the Albuquerque Journal