The 2020 New Mexico legislature ends today, February 20 at 12:00. On February 18, less than 48 hours before the 2020 legislative session adjourns, the New Mexico House of Representatives voted 60-0 to pass a $528 million capital spending bill. Late Wednesday, February 19, the New Mexico Senate approved the capital outlay bill 40-0. The bill will now be sent to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham who has line-item veto power.
The majority of the $528 million capital spending is funded through severance tax bonds. Severance taxes bonds are backed by future tax revenue generated by the extraction of oil, natural gas or other natural resources. Some of the capital projects provided for in the bill will be paid from the State’s general fund or other recurring funding sources.
The good news for Albuquerque is that the city’s delegation delivered on successively securing funding for the city’s public safety priorities. The bad news is that the city’s proposed “Gateway Homeless Shelter” took a hit calling into question if it will ever get built.
On November 19, Mayor Tim Keller announced that he had asked New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature for $30 million in funding during the upcoming 2020 legislative session to “modernize” APD. Keller said $20 million dollars of that will go to changing the way police file reports and produce crime stats and how they connect all the crime-fighting data into one. The $20 million in upgrades in the city’s existing crime-fighting technology includes upgrades to the Albuquerque Police Departments (APD) computer and records systems. The systems are used by APD police in their assigned squad cars and the mobile crime scene units. It also includes funding for new technology in gunshot detection devices and license plate scanners. The funding was in serious doubt when it was reported that there was a major delay in filing of appropriation legislation.
The $528 Million capital spending package approved by the House includes funding of $6 million to upgrade the computer-aided dispatch and records system for the Albuquerque Police Department, $1.8 million is being allocated to improve the APD laboratory and evidence warehouse which is still dealing with the back log of rape kits and $2.5 million is being allocated for a crime scene vehicle. The total “public safety” outlay for Albuquerque is $10.3 million. The Keller Administration asked for $10 million for a statewide Violence Intervention Program (VIP) which would have gone to create programs aimed at reducing teen crime, but lawmakers chose not to fund the VIP project
GATEWAY HOMELESS SHELTER
On November 5, 2019 Albuquerque voters approved general obligation bonds of $14 million for a city operated 24-7 homeless shelter that will house upwards of 300. The actual cost will be $30 million. Mayor Tim Keller’s administration had sought $14 million in state funding for the “Gateway Center” homeless project to match $14 million that city voters approved in the last bond election.
The $528 Million capital spending package contains no large infusion of funding set aside to help Albuquerque build the “Gateway Center” homeless shelter that would be open around the clock seven days a week. The capital outlay bill includes a mere $50,000 for the Gateway Center construction, fall short of what is needed to complete the project. The bill does contain $4 million for supportive housing for homeless, but that money cannot be used for construction costs of the shelter.
With only $14 million in place, the city only has enough to complete the first phase of the project. The city will now have to find funding elsewhere within the city budget or wait another year to ask for funding in the 2021 legislative session. During last year’s 2019 legislative session, the city sought $28 million for the project. The legislature funded only $985,000 last year for construction costs.
No real reasons have reported why the New Mexico legislature has declined to help with the “Gateway Center” funding that is needed to complete it. Speculation from Santa Fe legislative observers have said that the New Mexico legislature does not believe “homelessness” is a state wide issue but an Albuquerque issue. Keller has said the goal is to break ground next winter.
HOMELESS SHELTER VERSUS SOCCER STADIUM
The primary purpose of the 2020 New Mexico 30-day legislative session is enactment of the budget. The session ended on February 20. The $528 Million Capital Spending Package bill passed by the House was approved by the Senate and forwarded to the
The $528 Million capital spending package approved by the House includes $4.1 million that will go toward the design, planning and construction of a sports and cultural center, including art exhibits, playing fields and dining and retail space. The $4.1 in funding is intended to be applied to the effort to build a soccer stadium for New Mexico United, a professional team in Albuquerque. The team now plays at Isotopes Park and within a year must have a permanent dedicated stadium.
It is estimated that it will cost $75 million to build a 15,000-seat stadium. United owner Peter Trevisani said the team is prepared to put $1 million or more funding into the planning and design phase for the stadium, which would include a site and project funding analysis. Other potential funding sources include naming rights and borrowing money backed by future stadium revenues commonly referred to as revenue bonds.
Notwithstanding, a full financing package has yet been developed. New Mexico United Soccer owner Pete Trevisani had this to say about the $4.1 million in funding:
“I think it’s a great start. … It shows a commitment to vetting the project, and I think with the city, state and the private sector all working together, this time next year we could be funding and getting close to breaking ground on a stadium.”
According to NM State Representative Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, at least 20 lawmakers have already contributed from their discretionary money to fund the stadium despite not knowing exactly where in Albuquerque it would be built. Maestas said that his own contribution was “a couple hundred thousand dollars” and he believes the Legislature’s support for the stadium may be enough to purchase land at the preferred site. Maestas did not contribute to the Albuquerque homeless shelter but did contribute to the stadium funding.
Many unknowns ostensibly did not hurt stadium support among lawmakers, but the opposite was true when it came to the city’s homeless shelter. According to Representative Maestas, the lack of concrete plans and the city is still evaluating shelter probably affected legislative funding for the shelter. Maestas explained legislative reluctance to the shelter this way:
“I think members are reluctant to put into a pot unless they’re for sure knowing that that pot is going to get spent in the next 12 months. … Not only do these capital dollars provide services, but they also boost our economy, so those bigger projects are difficult. That may have come into play with regard to the support, but I don’t know that for a fact.”
For news reports see:
NEW MEXICO “POINT IN TIME” HOMELESS COUNT
Each year, the “Point in Time” (PIT) survey is conducted to determine how many people experience homelessness on a given night, and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT survey is conducted on only one night to determine how many people experience homelessness and to learn more about their specific needs. The PIT count is done in communities across the country in both urban and rural areas, and counting both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people. The PIT count is the official number of homeless reported by communities to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for funding and to help understand the extent of homelessness at the city, state, regional and national levels.
According to the PIT, New Mexico had the nation’s largest percentage increase in homelessness from 2018 to 2019 in the nation with an increase of 27%. New Mexico also had a 57.6% increase in chronic homelessness last year, also the highest in the nation. The percentage increase in Albuquerque’s homeless population alone rose by 15%. In New Mexico there were 2,464 homeless people in 2019 and of that total, 1,283 persons, or about 52%, were chronically homeless.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
The primary purpose of the 2020 New Mexico 30-day legislative session that ends February 20 is the enactment of the state budget for the fiscal year that commences July 1, 2020. The $528 Million capital spending bill enacted by the House and Senate was enacted with just hours to spare but could still change somewhat with the Governor’s line item veto power, but it is more likely than not she will sign it.
NM House $528 million capital spending package, like all capital spending package bills, is the result of a secretive committee process in which legislators and the governor each have discretionary money to earmark for their pet projects. Each legislator was given $3.047 million for projects they deem were necessary in their districts whether needed or not. Sometimes, legislators will combine their allocation to fund major projects.
The proposed soccer stadium, and for that matter, the homeless shelter are such projects. Most of the time lawmakers fund small projects in their districts that they can go back to their constituents and take credit for funding. Such smaller project funding give a great advantage to incumbents and are very important to small rural communities in the state. Proposals that would require additional transparency in the capital funding process have repeatedly failed year after year in the Roundhouse. Legislators no doubt do not want to be called out for failing to support or advocating projects come election time.
It is always a source of great wonderment when elected officials, including Governors, legislators, Mayor’s and City councilors proclaim how they support and want “transparency” in government, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer money, but when push comes to shove, they do not want to make public the process used to finance major capital projects.
It is downright pathetic how the New Mexico legislature feels that the construction of a $75 million dollar soccer stadium should take priority over $14 million in construction cost for a homeless shelter that is so desperately needed ignoring New Mexico again being on top of yet another bad list.