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Stimulus Cash for Ranch Makeover

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
          Gov. Bill Richardson has gone "Tamalewood" in doling out some of his few remaining federal stimulus dollars.
        Richardson has appropriated $1.75 million for renovations at a state-owned ranch in northern New Mexico that is headquarters for a film institute run in collaboration with actor Robert Redford.
        Meanwhile, the administration apparently is postponing action again on its planned acquisition of another ranch with stimulus money to serve as a sanctuary for wild horses.
        A delay would mean no action before the November election and could be an attempt by the administration to keep the purchase from becoming more of an issue in the gubernatorial race between Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and prosecutor Susana Martinez.
        Richardson has now allocated at least $55.2 million of the nearly $58 million in discretionary funds he received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
        The administration recently disclosed on a stimulus-related website that Richardson had signed off on $1.75 million for renovations at Los Luceros ranch on the Rio Grande between Española and Taos.
        The Legislative Finance Committee can object to the appropriation but can't stop it.
        Given spending cuts across government and another looming budget deficit, committee Vice Chairman John Arthur Smith said the state has "a helluva a lot more needs out there" than the ranch renovations.
        Smith, a Democratic senator from Deming, said the state already is doing too much for the film industry, including providing no-interest loans and a 25 percent rebate on some production expenses. He said the industry should foot the bill for renovations at Los Luceros ranch.
        Los Luceros is the home for Milagro at Los Luceros, a film-education program first announced last year by Richardson and Redford, a sometimes-resident of New Mexico.
        The program is targeted at Hispanics and Native Americans but not limited to them. Its goals include giving voices in films to underrepresented groups and stimulating jobs and other economic activity related to filmmaking.
        "The idea is to preserve the historic quality of Los Luceros while developing the site as a living, breathing community resource," said a spokesman for the Department of Cultural Affairs.
        The state purchased the 148-acre ranch for $2.5 million in 2008, with the Department of Cultural Affairs overseeing the property.
        The ranch includes a hacienda built in the 1850s, casitas and a jail. It also has a visitors center but isn't open to the public. The ranch was once the home of Mary Cabot Wheelwright, founder of the Wheelright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe.
        According to administration documents, the $1.75 million in stimulus is to be used to construct a multipurpose room with a capacity of 72 people, redesign outdoor space, expand a kitchen, build a bathhouse and create additional sleeping quarters.
        Vote delay
        Richardson announced in September that he planned to use $2.9 million in stimulus to purchase the Ortiz Mountain Ranch about 25 miles south of Santa Fe for use as a wild horse sanctuary.
        The acquisition is subject to approval by the state Board of Finance, which must OK all government property purchases.
        The board was scheduled to consider the ranch deal at a meeting Sept. 21, but consideration was postponed, with Richardson saying he took the action because he couldn't attend.
        The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Finance is Tuesday, but the administration said the ranch acquisition isn't on the agenda at this time. No explanation was provided.
        Richardson chairs the Board of Finance, and he and his appointees make up a majority. But Denish also is a member, and she opposes the use of stimulus dollars for the horse sanctuary.
        Martinez has been critical of previous stimulus spending by the administration, and she opposes the ranch deal.
        Board of Finance approval of the ranch purchase before the November election could have put Denish in a jam despite her opposition. That's because Martinez's campaign attempts to portray no distinction between Richardson and Denish.
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Thom Cole can be reached in Santa Fe at (505) 992-6280 or at tcole@abqjournal.com.

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