Senate panel passes capital projects bill

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LV institute money included

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Lawmakers are proposing to finance $240 million in capital improvements across New Mexico, including $15 million for projects needed for Native American water rights settlements.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure on Monday, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Although lawmakers are cutting spending this year on the state’s operating budget, the Legislature is able to finance capital improvements using $238 million in bonds backed by severance tax revenues. Other financing comes from earmarked revenues such as Game and Fish Department funds.

Unlike in the past, the capital improvement bill isn’t filled with small projects in the home districts of legislators. The Senate committee focused on larger statewide projects such as improvements to state buildings and equipment.

The measure provides $32 million for state highway improvements. About $20 million is allocated for unspecified projects at colleges and universities to address “critical” infrastructure needs. It will be up to the Higher Education Department to determine what projects qualify for the financing, lawmakers were told.

However, Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, questioned that approach, saying “it looks like we’re writing a blank check for $20 million.”

Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, said lawmakers intend the money to go to projects such as the replacement of heating system boilers rather than the construction of new buildings on college campuses.

Other provisions in the bill:
• $25 million for Department of Health facilities, including upgrades at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, the State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences.

• $7 million for water and wastewater treatment projects statewide.

• $4 million for the Department of Public Safety to replace police vehicles and for satellite communications upgrades.

• $17.6 million for Corrections Department prison projects, including security upgrades and improvements to heating and ventilation systems, kitchens and water systems.

• $7 million for Department of Cultural Affairs projects, including repairs at museums and state monuments and completion of facilities such as the education center at the Museum of Natural History.

• $10 million for renovations of the Manuel Lujan building in Santa Fe, which houses the Taxation and Revenue Department.

• $2.5 million for projects in the Santa Teresa area, including road work to avoid commercial traffic congestion at the Santa Teresa port of entry, a wastewater treatment facility and waste supply system upgrades.

• $1 million out of the Department of Transportation’s road fund for capital improvements to the Rail Runner commuter rail system.

• $1.1 million out of Game and Fish Department funds for projects including the replacement of a water pipeline at the Red River fish hatchery.