Richardson Signs $200M Bill to Finance Highway Projects

Sat September 13, 2008 - West Edition
Barry Massey - Associated Press




SANTA FE (AP) Gov. Bill Richardson signed legislation into law on Sept. 2 to provide up to $200 million for highway projects and $20 million to offer health care coverage to uninsured children.

Lawmakers approved the measures during a special session that ended last month.

One bill signed by Richardson will provide $32.5 million for health and social services: $20 million to expand Medicaid and another program to cover an estimated 17,000 uninsured children, $2.5 million for behavioral health services for children and $10 million for services for the developmentally disabled.

The governor had asked the Legislature to spend $58 million to expand health programs to cover an estimated 50,000 children without insurance.

“This is a big day for our state, and a major first step toward our goal of ensuring every New Mexican has access to quality health care,” Richardson said in a statement Sept. 2.

The administration plans to spend the additional road money on 13 projects, including improving U.S. 54 from Tularosa to Vaughn, U.S. 62 from the Texas border to Carlsbad, U.S. 64 between Raton and Clayton and U.S. 491 between Tohatchi and Shiprock.

About $150 million of the highway financing is from bonds backed by severance taxes. About $50 million will come from general state revenues during the next two years, but the money can be spent only if the state has adequate cash reserves.

“With this money we can address critical highway projects in rural New Mexico. These rural highways are the lifeline for thousands of our residents who use them everyday to commute, visit families and conduct their daily business,” Richardson said.

Under the new law, none of the $200 million can be used for a commuter rail system.

The state faces a nearly $560 million shortfall in financing for highway projects that were approved in 2003. The shortfall is partly because of skyrocketing costs for construction materials such as asphalt, steel and concrete. Because of the lack of money, the Transportation Department has postponed more than 30 road projects.