SANTA FE – Funding for band instruments, wrestling mats and zoo animals was axed Wednesday by Gov. Susana Martinez, who chastised New Mexico lawmakers for having an “irresponsible” approach to public infrastructure spending.
In all, the governor used her line-item veto authority to strike down 153 projects around the state, totaling $8.2 million, that had been included in a now-$158 million severance tax bond package – one of the three infrastructure bills passed by lawmakers during this year’s 30-day session.
Although she signed all three bills, she vetoed nearly $19.7 million worth of projects, leaving roughly $385 million intact.
The biggest veto, dollar-wise, was $8 million for a new health education building at the University of New Mexico’s campus in Rio Rancho. That project was included in a general obligation bond bill that will go before voters in November.
In an executive message to legislative leaders, Martinez blasted lawmakers for piecemeal funding and for killing several bills that would have overhauled the capital outlay system and required more transparency in public works spending.
“It is frustrating and disappointing to watch how the Legislature squanders critical infrastructure funding – choosing to spend money on local pork projects that often do not create jobs or develop the economy instead of pooling resources to make long-lasting, impactful improvements throughout the state,” Martinez said in her executive message.
The governor has clashed in previous years with the Legislature over the state’s capital outlay system, objecting to the practices of providing only partial funding for projects and granting dollars for projects not sought by local governments.
But Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, who said 21 projects were vetoed from this year’s bill in his northern New Mexico legislative district, insisted small local projects can make a big difference, especially in rural areas.
He specifically cited $20,000 for a new water system in Roy that was killed by the governor and said his district encompasses more than 14,000 square miles.
“Until the capital outlay system is fixed, these vetoed small amounts would have gone a long way,” Campos said Wednesday.
Under the state’s current system, lawmakers are allocated a set amount of funding that they can use for infrastructure projects in their legislative districts – and sometimes other districts.
Most of the money in the primary bill, a version of which is typically passed annually, comes from bonds backed by state severance tax revenue.
After reviewing this year’s measure, House Bill 219, Martinez vetoed every project of $10,000 or less, describing the approach as misguided.
“For many of the projects that received $10,000 or less, it is worth noting that the simple cost of complying with the issuance process of severance tax bonds could cost the entities receiving these appropriations more than the appropriation itself,” the governor said in her message.
Other projects receiving line-item vetoes in that bill included:
• $40,000 to restore a mural on the State Records Center and Archives building in Santa Fe.
• $143,500 to build a gymnasium and youth boxing facility in Albuquerque’s South Valley.
• $50,000 to repair and re-sod the driving range at the Ladera municipal golf course in Albuquerque.
• $20,000 to renovate the Clovis municipal zoo and purchase zoo animals.
This year’s proposals to revamp how the state funds public works projects got little traction at the Roundhouse, with some lawmakers voicing fear that a more centralized approach could mean less money going to their districts.
But other legislators say changes are needed, citing the fact there was $941 million worth of unspent capital outlay money – for a total 2,845 projects that date back to 2009 – as of December 2015.
The $8 million for the new health education building on the UNM campus in Rio Rancho was included in a separate capital outlay bill, Senate Bill 122, that is funded by bonds backed by property tax levies.
Martinez vetoed $10.9 million worth of projects from that legislation, leaving $174.4 million intact.
Regarding the proposed UNM health building, the two-term Republican governor said the project was not properly vetted and was slipped into the bill late in the legislative session.
Jamie Silva-Steele, president and CEO of UNM’s Sandoval Regional Medical Center, said the 44,000-square-foot building would have included labs and faculty office space.
She said backers of the project, which would have been close to the UNM West building, may look for other funding options given Martinez’s veto, but do not intend to give up on it.
“We’ll have to strategize and regroup,” Silva-Steele told the Journal . “It doesn’t end here.”
The third capital outlay bill, Senate Bill 172, reauthorizes spending of unused capital outlay dollars from previous years. Martinez vetoed $581,000 worth of projects from that bill, leaving $52.5 million intact.