DALLAS -New Mexico's $1.6 billion highway and rail transit program named for Gov. Bill Richardson will remain on track after lawmakers in a special session last week approved an extra $200 million, the former presidential candidate said.
Approval of the additional funds to cover construction inflation under the program known as Gov. Richardson's Investment Partnership was the only complete success for Richardson in a session that included calls for health care reform, tax rebates, and other economic assistance.
Richardson sought $58 million to expand health programs for 50,000 children without medical insurance, but lawmakers approved only $20 million to cover 17,000 children, part of $32 million approved overall for health care programs.
Lawmakers approved $56 million in tax relief, less than half of the $120 million Richardson requested.
Although Richardson had not signed the bills last week, he was mildly complimentary of the session, which prompted angry protests from some lawmakers.
"While the Legislature did not go as far as I would have liked to cover all children with health insurance, I believe modest but solid gains were made toward that goal," he said in a statement.
When Richardson announced the GRIP program in 2003, lawmakers joked that it meant "Get Richardson Into the Presidency." Richardson, a member of former President Bill Clinton's cabinet, did run for president this year but withdrew after failing to win a primary.
The $200 million package of road construction projects approved in the special session will substantially move the state toward completion of the GRIP program, Richardson said.
"When I took office, I made a commitment to improve the state's highways, but inflation and federal funding issues forced us to put many projects on hold," he said. "Right now, we have the resources to finish what we started and improve highways that are the lifeline for thousands of New Mexicans."
The bill provides $100 million in surplus monies and $100 million of severance tax bonds for 13 highway projects throughout the state. The new funding is expected to complete nearly 90% of the GRIP program that was started in 2004, Richardson said.
"The cost of inflation has hit the Transportation Department hard over the last several years," said New Mexico Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught. "In the last five years, the price of asphalt alone has increased by nearly 300%."
After approval of the $1.6 billion program amid a struggling economy, lawmakers approved another $180 million in a 2007 special session.
During his six years in office, Richardson has called four special sessions with varying results. Despite the fact that Richardson's Democratic party controls both houses of the Legislature, relations between the governor and lawmakers have often been acrimonious.