From senior centers to security fixes, partisan bickering kills millions in New Mexico funding

Associated Press

Partisan fighting kept New Mexico lawmakers from striking a deal on $270 million in public works projects, leaving a plethora of unfunded needs around the state as local officials scramble to figure out their next step.

From security upgrades in rural courtrooms and state prisons to senior center renovations and university improvements, major statewide and local capital projects are on hold at least for a year.

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It's all because lawmakers failed to agree on how to fund highway projects.

The public works package included more than $6 million for school buses around the state and money for a northeastern New Mexico hospital to make repairs in its emergency department.

"I'm really not surprised since they always wait until the last minute," said Raton Mayor Sandy Mantz, whose community lost funding for Miners' Colfax Medical Center, one of the few emergency facilities in the region. "It's really unfortunate."

Republican House leaders blamed Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, for seeking a gas tax and for killing the capital outlay bill with minutes to go in the session — even though the House didn't vote on a GOP-sponsored revision until there was less than 30 minutes left.

House leaders said Senate Democrats had a proposal a month before the last-minute showdown.

"I think the session can be summed up in five words," said House Majority leader Nate Gentry, R- Albuquerque, who refused to admit any role in lawmakers' failure to iron out a deal. "And these words are: Michael Sanchez failed New Mexico."

Gentry said Sanchez openly boasted that the Democrat-controlled Senate would stall proposals pushed by GOP Gov. Susana Martinez.

However, Democrats said it was Republicans who refused to compromised and sought to fund highways through reckless borrowing and cutting services for the poor.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who sat in on negotiations for capital funding, said not only did the Republican plan not have a "responsible revenue stream" for new highways, the amended proposal included an unneeded $4 million for a new hangar for Spaceport America.

"I don't know how you go back to your districts and say this is responsible spending," Smith said.

In a last minute effort to restore Democrat-supported funding, Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, pressed for an amendment even though some Republicans warned the delay might kill funding for everything.

The lack of a deal frustrated Martinez, who after the session who denounced Senate Democrats for failing to send her a public works package she could sign.

"They killed jobs all over the state," Martinez said. "They killed infrastructure projects in every single corner of this state."

Martinez said Democratic partisanship "was some of the worst I've ever seen."

State Republican Party Chair Debbie Maestas signaled that the failure to fund the public projects may become an issue in the 2016 election.

"People are looking at their elected leaders and are fed up with this Washington-style gridlock, but with the same people running the show, nothing will ever change," Maestas said.


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