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Building-Project Funds Likely To Shrink in 2008

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Trip Jennings – Albuquerque Journal

Legislators hoping to fund senior centers, museums and community centers around the state could be headed for a drought when they return to Santa Fe in January.

By some estimates, lawmakers might have only one-third as much money as they did this year for brick-and-mortar projects and about half of what they spent in 2006.

But one key lawmaker says the projected drought couldn’t come at a better time because there’s already a backlog of $1.3 billion in unspent funds appropriated for an estimated 6,000 projects approved from 1998 to 2006.

That backlog has led Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, to suggest that state lawmakers fund the old projects with money available in 2008 before paying for new ones.

Smith, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, said he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle.

“Once that appetite is there, it’s tough to trim back,” he said.

Also, 2008 is an election year and many lawmakers “will want to have that special project taken care of,” Smith said.

According to LFC projections, an estimated $370 million will be available for legislators in January to spend on bricks and mortar.

Such projects are often top legislative priorities for lawmakers and communities they represent, and are the clearest example of “bringing home the bacon.”

Next year’s estimate isn’t exactly shabby compared with lean years in the late 1990s, or even earlier this decade, when less than $100 million was sometimes earmarked for the same kind of work.

But the latest estimate is significantly lower than the past two years. The Legislature, with the governor’s consent, this year spread about $1 billion around New Mexico to pay for local and statewide projects and laid out about $750 million in 2006.

The lower projection for next year has to do with the state’s inability to pull as much money from surplus reserves.

Fiscal analysts last year underestimated how well revenues would perform in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2006. As a result, the state’s coffers were brimming with tax revenue and lawmakers and the governor agreed to divert some of the surplus to help pay for brick-and-mortar projects.

That windfall isn’t expected this year, officials said.

The lower amount won’t affect public school projects, which are handled through a different process, officials said.

Project backlog
A backlog of brick-and-mortar projects is nothing new to New Mexico, and officials say the glut can be traced to a confluence of factors.

Lawmakers sometimes partly fund a project but don’t follow up in subsequent years with money to complete it. Other times, lawmakers choose to fund projects local communities don’t want, so the projects languish when local officials don’t set aside matching money.

And the rising cost of materials has on occasion pushed some projects over budget before construction starts.

Robert Apodaca of the Department of Finance and Administration said the backlog isn’t as bad as it looks.

Most of the unspent state money is associated with projects approved in the past three years and the five-year deadline for using the money hasn’t run out, he said.

Still, a few high-profile projects are stuck in the backlog, including $33 million set aside in 2006 for the proposed spaceport in southern New Mexico.

Kelly O’Donnell, deputy secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department, said a majority of that money should be spent in coming months.

Meanwhile, Alan Clark, executive director of Albuquerque’s Wheels Museum, said he hopes that $2 million, earmarked last year for the museum, will go toward buying acreage at the Santa Fe railyard property in Barelas.

“We are in the process of attempting to finish the deal on a negotiated price on the land,” Clark said.

Events

New Lego exhibit at the Wheels Museum. View The New Mexico Lego Users Group has
partnered with WHEELS to have a beautiful Lego Train layout for children of all ages to enjoy. The exhibit will vary from season to season and we invite you to come see this new Lego train exhibit.

Do you have a few hours each month to help the Wheels Museum? Volunteers are needed so the Museum can be open more; run the model railroad trains, also help needed with events, marketing, fund raising. Call Leba Freed at (505) 243-6269.

Febuary 16, 11 am. Bob Bovee Long Steel Rails concert. This program for all ages presents songs and stories about the famous trains, rail workers, hobos, train wrecks and train robbers. Call or email Leba Freed for reservations at (505) 243-6269 or leba4@aol.com.

March 17, Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at WHEELS. Movie, tours, train ride and food celebration.

April 1, 1 pm. Doug Figgs and Badger. Back by popular demand. By reservations only (505) 243- 6269. Doug’s show was sold out last year, so call early! Donation: $10.00.

April 8, 11 am. “Historic Albuquerque” Ronn Perea will present old Albuquerque anecdotes including delightful stories about our beloved Alvarado Hotel and the politicians, actors and entertainers who stayed there. This is a free event but, of course, donations are always appreciated.

April 22, Wheels Museum Day trip to Rancho De Chimayo Restaurante, El Santuario de Chimayo and the Santa Fe Plaza. Call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for more information. The museum is a 501C3 non-profit community organization whose mission is to create a transportation museum at the downtown Albuquerque Steam Locomotive Repair Shops.

May 19-May 23, Train trip to the Grand Canyon. Only a few spaces left.Scheduled through Amtrak Vacations, call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for reservations and more information.