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Barrel of ‘Pork’ Faces Gov.’s Veto

Gov. Susana Martinez is calling wasteful 100 or more capital construction projects approved by New Mexico lawmakers and she planned to veto many of them today.

Projects on the governor’s hit list are part of two capital outlay bills, totaling about $275 million, approved during the state’s recent legislative session. Today is the deadline for the governor to act.

At least one project safe from a veto is the state’s $30 million contribution toward the Paseo del Norte/I-25 interchange improvement in Albuquerque, Martinez said Tuesday.

Martinez heralded the Paseo project as the kind of statewide priority that capital outlay spending is intended to address with the help of local government contributions.

“This is the way it’s supposed to get done,” Martinez said at an Albuquerque news conference with Mayor Richard J. Berry. “Capital outlay is supposed to be something where we collaborate and push our dollars together.”

Albuquerque will contribute $50 million to the project expected to cost about $93 million. Bernalillo County will chip in $5 million. The city this month is applying for a federal grant to pay the remaining $8 million balance.

But Berry said the state funding was the critical piece to get the Paseo traffic reduction project under construction within the next 18 months.

“If that critical funding (from the state) weren’t there, this project, in my opinion, doesn’t move forward,” Berry said.

Martinez has criticized several of the capital projects requested by lawmakers as “wasteful pork” since hours after Legislature adjourned Feb. 16.

She cited specific concerns with a $200,000 improvement for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, $80,000 for a mariachi youth center in Roswell and $25,000 for a rose garden in Albuquerque.

“There are hundreds of these requests,” Martinez said Tuesday.

“We’re digging through it with a fine-toothed comb, (looking for) as much information as we can gather, knowing that with a lot of these projects it’s very limited information,” she said.

Some lawmakers said the governor’s search for waste overlooks benefits many of the projects offer to communities around the state.

“Her idea of pork is my constituents’ necessities,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe. “But I can’t argue with that. If she wants to say it’s pork, (she) can call it whatever she wants.”

The capital outlay bills include about $137 million in projects funded mostly with severance tax bonds. The Paseo del Norte/I-25 interchange money is among the severance tax bond projects the governor is expected to approve.

A second bill outlines property tax-funded general obligation bond projects worth about $139 million that voters will consider in November. Those construction projects would benefit colleges, senior centers and community libraries around the state.

The Governor’s Office would not release a list of planned line-item vetoes before acting on the bills today.

Martinez has argued capital improvement money should be used to address statewide needs, like major highway, dam and wastewater projects.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the governor is taking the right approach by looking to cut wasteful projects, or projects that won’t receive enough state money to break ground with construction.

However, Ingle said he hoped Martinez understood the impact of the projects she planned to veto.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal