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$86M Public Works Plan Advances

SANTA FE – A key Senate committee approved a pared-down $86.5 million package of statewide public works projects Thursday, paving the way for a Senate vote on the projects by as early as today.

The list of projects includes new State Police vehicles, new heating and cooling systems for three state-run prisons and renovations for various state government buildings.

Most of the money – about $81 million – would come from severance tax bonds backed by oil and natural gas revenues. The rest would come from the state’s main operating account and various other state funds.

Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed lawmakers to approve a larger list of public works, or capital outlay, projects totaling about $213 million, but several Senate Finance Committee members said Thursday that it’s prudent to spend only a portion of that money now.

“I think being cautious is the right way to go,” said Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. “Maybe by January we will be in a little more stable position.”

Business and labor groups have backed Martinez’s push for a larger package of public works, claiming the infusion of state funding would create jobs and provide a jolt to the state’s economy.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who cast the lone vote against the pared-down package Thursday, voiced similar arguments Thursday.

“Wouldn’t it be to our advantage to get (those projects) in the pipeline now and create the jobs?” he asked.

If approved, the bonds funding the public works project could be issued shortly after the special session, allowing the projects to be started within the next several months.

Among the projects omitted from Martinez’s original list of projects is $42 million for statewide road and highway maintenance. The first-term governor had said that money would help offset the operational costs of the Rail Runner commuter train.

Senate Finance Committee Vice Chairman Carlos Cisneros, a Questa Democrat, said the smaller list of projects would allow lawmakers to have at least $131 million in severance tax bond capacity available for next year’s regular legislative session.

“I think this is a list of projects that are urgently needed,” Cisneros said of committee substitute for Senate Bill 10. “The others have not been totally vetted or can wait.”
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal