April 6, 2022

Rail Runner funding removed from junior spending bill

The Rail Runner will not be receiving $1 million to temporarily reduce fares to riders.

A proposal to provide the money to the public transit organization was removed from the “junior” spending bill on Tuesday during the Senate Finance Committee and a later attempt by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, to add it back in was unsuccessful.

The funding for the Rail Runner to reduce fares was not in the bill that previously passed the Legislature during the regular session earlier this year. That bill was brought back for the special session after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed it. The governor said in her veto message that it circumvented the normal process for spending bills and said that some of the projects were not fully funded, which could result in money being  “wasted on projects that will never be completed.”

Proponents of including the Rail Runner funding said that one reason for the special session was to provide relief to New Mexicans struggling because of the cost of gasoline. Reducing the cost to use the Rail Runner could help those people.

Opponents said the Rail Runner already has funding that could be used for the same purpose, including federal CARES Act funding.

After debate in the Senate focused largely on the Rail Runner funding, the bill moved quickly through the House of Representatives.

The junior spending bill includes $50.2 million of funding for hundreds of projects statewide. These projects tend to be small and many of them focus on purchasing equipment like new police vehicles.

During the Senate Finance Committee meeting, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said the bill has 493 projects, which means 493 impacts across the state. The identified needs of each community are different, he continued.

While some of the projects are specific to certain communities, such as new police vehicles, others will have a statewide impact.

One of largest projects is $820,000 intended to expand education, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections as well as to expand access to reproductive health care and pregnancy services. 

The bill also includes $300,000 for the New Mexico Environment Department to help protect people from exposure to PFAS chemicals and $360,000 for planning, administration and oversight of uranium mine remediation and cleanup. It also allocates $410,000 for the Office of the State Engineer to help with implementation of the Water Data Act.

The bill also includes a requirement that the legislators who asked for funding for each project be disclosed. The list will be published online after the governor signs the bill and will allow people to see how much money their legislators appropriated for different projects.