By Gabriel Monte: Freedom New Mexico
With the state facing a $384 million shortfall this year, Gov. Bill Richardson said he plans to save $400 million by slashing state agency budgets.
Richardson was in Clovis Thursday outlining his priorities for next week’s legislative session, part of a two-day, six stop-tour across the state that started Wednesday.
The Legislature is scheduled to start Tuesday.
While he said he plans to cut budgets, Richardson told the more than 50 community leaders and members attending the governor’s visit that replacing the Hull Street overpass is still a priority. He promised to seek $1 million for the project.
During his stop later in Tucumcari, Richardson promised $4.2 million for improvements to the downtown area and Mesalands Community College.
In Clovis, the governor zeroed in on the overpass, budget cuts in state agencies, and education and public safety reforms.
Hull Street overpass
Richardson assured community leaders that the Hull Street overpass will not be forgotten.
City officials closed the 46-year-old structure in July for safety reasons. A state engineer said the aging bridge could not support the more than 4,300 vehicles that crossed it daily.
City officials estimate replacing the bridge will cost between $7 million to $9 million.
Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield said she is pleased with the governor’s support and said the project would also benefit from President-Elect Barack Obama’s infrastructure stimulus package.
Rep. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, asked Richardson if he could delay a proposed mandate on animal shelters to use lethal injection as its method of euthanasia. He said the money the city would spend to follow the mandate could be used for the overpass.
Richardson said he would consider Ingle’s request.
Lovita Frusher, owner of One Stop feed and Supply on Hull Street, said she is more confident now that the Hull Street Overpass would be repaired.
Richardson said to save money during the slow economy, he plans to cut state agency budgets between 2 percent and 5 percent.
He also plans to take back capital outlay funding from projects that have stalled.
“I know how important capital outlay (money) is to small communities … but there some of these projects that are just not going to happen,” he said.
He identified more than $450 million in stalled projects funded with state capital outlay money.
Brumfield said she did not know of any ongoing city projects that are in jeopardy of losing capital outlay funding.
“Most of our things we’ve already started,” she said. “What we have we think is going to be okay.”
Richardson said the state needs to invest more money in education reform, especially in rural communities.
He said he will require students to attend 180 school days.
While he said he supports a proposed funding formula that would add $350 million to education, he said he would like to put it to a referendum vote or a constitutional amendment.
“I support changing the formula (but) the fact is we are facing a budget (short)fall,” he said.
Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said education groups who support the funding formula will not back off their campaign for a one-cent gross receipts tax earmark to fund schools.
“We believe a penny on the dollar hits everyone a little bit but no one a lot,” she said. “(A referendum election) will postpone our kids having full-time counselors, social workers, and being able to pay for the 180 days of instruction. We’re going to continue to push for that in the upcoming legislative session.”
Public safety reforms
Included in his public safety reforms are expanding DWI offenses to include drugs, making gang recruitment illegal and allowing law enforcement officers to testify in DWI hearings by telephone.
Gang recruitment of adults would be a fourth-degree felony and recruitment of children would be a third degree felony, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
The initiative would also enhance sentences of gang-related crimes to up to eight years.
Richardson said he also wants improved laws against stalking and wants to criminalize destruction of joint properties because of domestic violence.
Richardson will also push for health care initiatives this year, according to spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia.
The initiatives include an Electronic Medical Records Act, requiring health insurers to reimburse for direct services at a rate of 85 percent and a guarantee of health plans despite preexisting conditions, according to Ray-Garcia.