Lawmakers propose canceling projects

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Capital improvement projects could be on the chopping block

By Barry Massey

SANTA FE — Thousands of capital improvement projects, from school playgrounds to water system upgrades, would be scrapped under a proposal by a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

The legislation could provide nearly $150 million to help replenish New Mexico’s cash reserves, which have been drained because of recent budget problems.

The measure will run into strong opposition because projects would be canceled in communities across New Mexico and in the home districts of legislators.

“It’s sort of a poison pill for a lot of members on both sides of the aisle,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said Tuesday.

On the chopping block are projects that haven’t moved forward, in some instances for years, because not enough money was initially approved to complete all necessary work. In addition, the legislation will pull back leftover money from some projects that have been finished.

Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration helped in assembling the list of projects, but the governor continues to negotiate with legislators which ones should be canceled, said Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Richardson.

If the Legislature doesn’t free up money by eliminating capital projects, lawmakers could be forced to cut

spending or raid other funds to improve the state’s finances, said Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, who also is sponsoring the capital-cutting legislation in the Senate.

“We’re trading pork for human services and public services,” said Cisneros. “We all have concerns because it impacts each and every one of our respective districts.”

The bill eliminates money for more than 2,000 projects financed out of the state’s main budget account and with bond proceeds.

Among those proposed to be eliminated: $1.8 million for domestic violence centers statewide; $1.2 million for clean energy and energy innovation projects statewide; $1.3 million for a rehearsal hall at the Santa Fe Opera; nearly $588,000 for renovation and repairs to state buildings statewide; about $786,000 for renovation of health facilities statewide; $431,000 for improvements to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History; $850,000 for the Cibola County Hospital medical office building; about $537,600 for an addition to a Las Cruces labor office; $452,200 for a domestic violence shelter in Gallup; $314,000 for a regional animal shelter in Farmington; $1.7 million for work on the San Juan River to help endangered fish; $280,000 for water system improvements in Las Vegas; $520,000 for a Santa Fe rape crisis center; and nearly $169,000 for improvements to the Santa Fe County fairgrounds.