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Public Works Bill Rejected

SANTA FE — The Senate late Friday rejected a move by two Albuquerque lawmakers to beef up a public works bill with $30 million for a new Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25 interchange.

Supporters of the big interchange project still had another shot in the House, but lawmakers from outside of Bernalillo County opposed inclusion of the special Albuquerque project in the dollar-limited, statewide public works bill. Senate debate on the bill extended past midnight after rejection of the Paseo project on a 24-16 vote.

Sens. Eric Griego, a Democrat, and John Ryan, a Republican, urged Senate colleagues to pass about $213 million in so-called capital outlay spending instead of the $86.5 million list approved Thursday by a key Senate committee.

“All of this is critical stuff,” Griego said of the larger $213 million proposal. “It’s not fluff.”

Gov. Susana Martinez has also pushed legislators to approve a larger list of public works projects, but some members of the Senate Finance Committee expressed concern over authorizing the maximum amount of severance tax bonds available.

They say it’s prudent to spend only a portion of the $213 million currently available in case new needs arise during next year’s regular legislative session.

The list of projects included in the $86.5 million plan — funded almost entirely by severance tax bonds — include new State Police vehicles, new heating and cooling systems for three state-run prisons and renovations for various state government buildings.

Griego and Ryan’s proposal, backed by business and labor groups, would add other projects to that list, including the $30 million for renovations to the congested Paseo del Norte interchange.

Albuquerque voters will vote in an Oct. 4 municipal election on a $25 million bond issue to provide funding for the first phase of the interstate project. The total price for rebuilding the interchange could ultimately reach $360 million.

Meanwhile, in other legislative action Friday:

•  The House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation that would extend a supplemental food stamp program for more than 4,000 low-income, elderly and disabled New Mexicans through June 2012.

The bill, Senate Bill 3, heads to Martinez’s desk for final approval since it was endorsed by the Senate on a 36-0 vote earlier Friday. It would also prevent at least $4 million in Medicaid funding from reverting to the federal government’s control at the end of this month.

•  The House also voted 68-0 to send legislation making changes to the “local preference” law to Martinez’s desk for final approval.

The measure, Senate Bill 1, would help local contractors by closing a loophole that allows out-of-state companies to receive in-state preference in bidding for government contracts by establishing a minimal presence in New Mexico.
— This article appeared on page A3 of the Albuquerque Journal