Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an infrastructure bill Friday that includes millions of dollars for upgrades to Santa Fe’s airport, a new crime lab for state police and dormitories at the New Mexico School for the Arts.
Riding an oil boom that has left the state’s coffers brimming with cash, Senate Bill 280 includes more than $900 million in funding for projects around New Mexico selected by legislators and government officials.
The process, known as capital outlay, has long drawn criticism for allowing politicians to dole out money to favored projects. There is no requirement that individual lawmakers disclose which projects they supported, and the Senate blocked a proposal this year to bring more transparency to the system.
This much is clear: SB 280 is the largest infrastructure spending package of its kind in years. It is all paid in cash, rather than through the typical process of selling bonds.
For Santa Fe, it includes $30 million to build a new state police crime lab, which comes as the Department of Public Safety has seen a ballooning demand for testing forensic evidence. With groundbreaking expected in 2022, the planned facility would be about 41,000 square feet — more than double the size of the current space.
SB 280 also includes $9 million to upgrade the passenger terminal at Santa Fe Regional Airport, a long-term aim of the city as it tries to attract more direct flights.
The bill also has $4 million for Vladem Contemporary, a new art museum in the works at the old Halpin State Archives building in the Railyard, and $1.1 million for the first phase of a teen center on the city’s south side.
Former Gov. Susana Martinez made a point of vetoing capital outlay spending she viewed as wasteful — often smaller appropriations for basic items.
“In the past, capital outlay appropriations of $10,000 or less were eliminated as a matter of principal,” Lujan Grisham wrote. “I have decided to allow many of these appropriations, because I recognize that improvements costing only a few thousand dollars can make a meaningful difference to, for example, New Mexicans living in a rural senior center that for many years have been overlooked.”
But she added: “Relatively small projects should not be addressed by capital outlay funds, but by other means well within the capacity of state and local governments.”
The governor ended up vetoing about 1 percent of the funds, or $9.5 million.
That included $50,000 for new signs at Santa Fe Regional Airport as well as money for renovations at the First Judicial District courthouse downtown.
The governor also signed two “junior” appropriations bills totaling around $60 million.
Legislators divided the money among themselves for projects of their choosing, with half the money dedicated to one-time expenses, such as buying equipment for government agencies or commissioning a study, and another half going to recurring expenses, such as hiring staff.
Some expenses are basic, such as $65,000 to pay for domestic violence services in Shiprock and $100,000 to replace a transmitter near Maljamar for the public radio station KENW-FM.
Elsewhere, it seems unclear if some of the money will be spent in the next year, such as $100,000 to market the as-yet unscheduled inaugural flight by Virgin Galactic from Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences.
The appropriations bills were the last big pieces of legislation Lujan Grisham signed as Friday’s noon deadline approached.
In those last hours, the governor also signed:
• SB 314, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, which authorizes New Mexico State University to partner with private investors to set up a campus in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
• House Bill 163, sponsored by Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, which gives a tax deduction for estates and trusts. The banking industry has pushed the bill.
• HB 248, sponsored by Reps. Martin Zamora and Randal Crowder, both Clovis Republicans, which makes it a parking violation to block a parking space designated for use by people with mobility limitations.