New Mexico governor signs spending of federal pandemic aid

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  • Michelle Lujan Grisham
    Michelle Lujan Grisham
    American politician

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s governor signed a nearly $500 million spending bill Tuesday that draws on federal pandemic relief funds to expand high-speed internet access, bolster roads, upgrade state parks, expand nurse training programs and help teachers pay off their student debts amid a shortage of educators.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, approved all proposed spending in the bill and vetoed a requirement that local governments contribute to related affordable housing projects. The governor said that requirement was unreasonable given economic distress.

A bill-signing ceremony in Belen marked a truce in a monthslong standoff between the governor and a handful of state senators over which branches of government can allocate $1.7 billion in federal pandemic aid.

Lujan Grisham initially asserted sole authority over the aid approved in March by President Joe Biden and Congress. Legislators including Republican Sen. Greg Baca of Belen and unaffiliated Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque challenged the governor at the Supreme Court and successfully defended the Legislature’s oversight of the federal relief funds.

Baca highlighted a provision of the bill that sets aside $50 million for the possible construction of an acute care hospital in Valencia County, which encompasses rapidly growing communities on the southern outskirts of Albuquerque.

The bill signed on Tuesday provides $133 million for high-speed internet infrastructure. Spending can go toward alternatives to underground fiber-optic cable such as satellite networks.

It assigned $142 million to road and highway infrastructure projects, $25 million to housing assistance, $20 million for upgrades to the state’s network of state parks, $15 million to nurse training programs and $15 million toward advertising aimed at attracting tourists to the state.

The state will spend another $10 million to pick up litter, $7 million on outdoor recreation programs and $5 million on food banks.

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The state already used $600 million in federal pandemic relief to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, avoiding payroll tax increases on local businesses.

Lujan Grisham previously authorized spending on sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated and supplementary wages to agricultural workers that harvest and process the state’s renowned chile crop.

Of the state’s original $1.7 billion allocation in federal aid, legislators have wrapped more than a half-billion dollars into the state general fund to allow more time for spending decisions in the coming years.

Leading legislators are highlighting the need for workforce training and education programs to expand and diversify a state economy that is closely tethered to oil production, tourism and federal military and research facilities.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: New Mexico governor signs spending of federal pandemic aid

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