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Governor approves $294 million for public works

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law a big-ticket infrastructure bill Wednesday, paving the way for about 1,000 New Mexico construction projects – totaling roughly $294 million – to move forward as soon as bonds are sold to finance them.

The Republican governor said the legislation, approved during a single-day special session last week, will improve the state’s economy and, with $45 million for highway repair work, improve public safety.

“When we put a bunch of dollars into critical infrastructure projects in the state, we really do create jobs and lay a stronger foundation for long-term economic growth,” Martinez told a group of business leaders in the fast-growing border hub of Santa Teresa after signing the bill.

The final version of the capital works bill contains money for senior centers, state buildings, libraries and several University of New Mexico sports facilities – including $426,000 for UNM Stadium improvements.

But Martinez also used her line-item veto authority to ax 42 projects totaling roughly $1.1 million, including $45,000 for Albuquerque courthouse furniture and technology and money for several construction projects on tribal lands.

The number and dollar amount of vetoes were far less than in previous years, and Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, the bill’s sponsor, said the vetoes did not appear to be politically motivated.

“It doesn’t seem like a targeting of anyone in particular,” Cisneros told the Journal . “I think it’s within the realm of executive prerogative.”

However, Debra Haaland, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said she was “dismayed and disappointed” by the governor’s vetoes of 11 tribal projects.

“By vetoing capital outlay for a senior center, a health and wellness center, as well as road maintenance and grading equipment, she has demonstrated her lack of understanding of the most basic needs of Native people in these small, underserved communities,” Haaland, who is an enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, told the Journal .

In a message to Senate leaders, Martinez said some of the vetoed projects were insufficiently funded in the capital outlay bill, others were not “shovel-ready” and a few – including musical instruments and dance mats – were inappropriate for state infrastructure bonds.

The governor also said she will continue to push for changes to the capital planning process in hopes of making it more efficient.

“When we invest wisely, better prioritize, and put a premium on construction projects of large scope and regional impact, we can put New Mexicans to work and maximize the impact of these capital dollars,” Martinez wrote in her executive message.

Martinez has previously criticized lawmakers for funding small-scale projects, describing them as “wasteful pork.” But legislators have defended such projects as critical community needs.

The infrastructure bill was unanimously approved by lawmakers during the June 8 special session, which was called by Martinez after weeks of negotiations between the Governor’s Office and top-ranking legislators.

It was revived and approved after a previous $264 million construction projects bill died on the final day of this year’s 60-day regular session, due largely to a philosophical and political debate over how to fund highway work.

In the final version of the bill, the $45 million for such highway repairs will come from a mix of bonds and cash reserves.

The legislation also includes $12.5 million for a New Mexico “closing fund,” actually an economic development grant program that allows local governments to cover business expansion and relocation costs.

Lawmakers also approved $37.5 million for such spending in the state’s budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, bringing the total size of the closing fund to $50 million – more than triple this year’s amount.

“It’s necessary to have because all other states have that (fund to cover) closing costs,” Martinez said Wednesday. “We need to have it to be competitive with our neighbors.”

Other funded projects include $297,200 for an otter exhibit at the Albuquerque BioPark and $680,000 for improvements to Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, a more than 400-year old building that’s been designated as a national treasure.

Journal staff writer Lauren Villagran contributed from Santa Teresa.

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