Gov. Criticizes Outlay for Kids’ Mariachi Program

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At a news conference a few hours after the Legislature ended its session Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez criticized some projects in a $137 million spending bill approved by lawmakers.

“I don’t care if they’re a Republican earmark or a Democrat earmark; I intend to highlight wasteful pork and veto them, because the people of New Mexico deserve better,” Martinez said.

The governor took aim at about a half-dozen projects, including “$80,000 for mariachi instruments.”

Her remarks made a good sound bite, but there is more to the story of that $80,000.

The legislation would appropriate the money “to plan, design, purchase, construct, equip, furnish and improve the S.O.Y. Mariachi building and to purchase musical instruments in Roswell.”

R.G. “Bobby” Villegas, who helped found S.O.Y. Mariachi and is one of the nonprofit’s volunteer instructors, estimates only about $1,500 of the $80,000 would be spent on instruments.

S.O.Y. — or Save Our Youth — Mariachi teaches music and life skills to kids for free.

Villegas says the group rents a building from the county for $200 a year, and he says the state previously has provided money for improvements.

He says nearly all the $80,000 would be spent to renovate bathrooms and to improve the building’s outdoor space for planned mariachi concerts for the community.

About 75 children ages 5 to 18 attend practice each week at the building to learn to play and sing mariachi music, Villegas says. The youths also get lessons in unity, discipline, commitment, pride and more.

“There’s more to life than playing mariachi music,” Villegas says. “So we try to touch all the bases.”

S.O.Y. Mariachi provides free uniforms for the kids and lends instruments if the children or their parents cannot afford to purchase them.

When the children perform at weddings, quinceañeras or other events, the money they earn goes into individual college funds. The nonprofit also helps the kids find jobs as mariachis when they go to college.

“They can pick up $200 and not have to deliver pizza at night,” Villegas says.

He estimates more than 1,000 children have taken part in the program in its 18 years. Music has been a lifesaver for some kids with personal problems, he says.

The program has been honored for its contributions to improving the lives of at-risk children, and there has been a move to start an offshoot in Carlsbad.

“It’s just a community program that has been successful thanks to our volunteers,” Villegas says.

He says the proposed $80,000 appropriation was sponsored by a Democrat, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, and a Republican, Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, both of Roswell.

Reached by telephone Monday morning, Villegas already had heard about the governor’s criticism of the proposed $80,000 appropriation and her pledge to veto it. He was preparing a letter for Martinez.

“We’d like to turn the governor around,” he says.

Villegas might have a chance. Martinez has talked about putting kids first.

The support for S.O.Y. Mariachi is one of more than 200 proposed public works and other projects that would be funded with revenue from severance tax bonds.

At her news conference Thursday, Martinez said lawmakers had included wasteful spending in the capital outlay bill rather than fund some critical statewide and regional infrastructure projects that would create jobs or lay the foundation for job creation. She also objects to using bonds, which are paid back over several years, to pay for so-called earmarks.

Martinez also singled out for criticism a proposed $5,000 appropriation for a sign and “$2,000 for a post.”

There is no $2,000 appropriation for a post.

As for the $5,000 appropriation, the money would go to the Lincoln Jackson Family Center in Clovis for planning, design and construction of a sign.

The center, part of the Clovis Municipal School District, houses an education program for preschool children with developmental disabilities.

The center also provides family literacy programs and, in partnership with Clovis Community College, serves as a learning center for adults, offering instruction in English, computers and more.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor. — This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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