Rep.-elect Alan Martinez, R-Bernalillo, visits with Bernalillo Councilor Sharon Torres-Quintana and police Chief Chris Stoyell after the town's annual legislative breakfast on Dec. 8. Martinez represents District 23 covering the town west of the Rio Grande and a slice of Rio Rancho extending about seven miles from U.S. Highway 550 to the southwest.

By Bill Diven

When the state Legislature gallops into Santa Fe on Jan. 17, once again the free-roaming horses of Placitas will be hot on their trail.

Meanwhile, as billions in new oil money gushes forth, legislators are warning it's the billions in old money gathering dust that local governments stand to lose.

"The current framework for wild and feral horses is muddled at best," Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, told the Signpost. "We're trying to straighten that out.

"I think we're close to a proposal that improves the situation, but we're a long way from solving the issue."

McQueen has been working with state Sens. Brenda McKenna, D-Corrales, and Pat Woods, R-Broadview, who are again taking the lead on the horse legislation. He inherited the issue as his own when post-census redistricting brought Placitas and La Madera into his House District 50.
The legislator starting his fifth House term said he plans to be a House sponsor for the senators’ bill, which is still being drafted. This first step is aimed at statewide issues rather than the specifics of horses freely roaming Placitas, he added.
During the 2021 session, McKenna and Woods proposed the Wild Horse
Management Act addressing conflicts among state laws. The bill rewrote the Wild Horse Act and separated the horses from stray livestock subject to roundup and auction by the state Livestock Board, a source of hostile controversy in Placitas.
While requiring county-level management plans, the bill also provided protections under the Animal Cruelty Act.

That drew fire from ranchers concerned they could face animal-abuse charges for chasing away wandering horses to protect resources. The bill went no further than its first Senate committee.
The 60-day legislative session, which alternates with 30-day budget-specific
sessions, begins Jan. 17 in Santa Fe. A loaded agenda includes what to do with the estimated $3.6 billion in “new money,” the difference between current budgeted expenses and forecast revenue for the budget year beginning July 1.
Cash rebates to taxpayers and reforming the state’s taxation methods are two topics under discussion. In addition to revenue from state oil and gas resources, robust employment, sales taxes and inflation are contributing to the bounty, according to the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC).
Democrats hold solid majorities in both the House and Senate.

It was McKenna who delivered the recent warning about the potential loss of unspent capital outlay, $3.5 billion already appropriated mostly for construction-related projects. Those 4,400 projects linger after years of incremental funding and annual project renewals, she said during the Bernalillo town government’s annual breakfast for area legislators and officials on Dec. 8.
When the legislators met early in December, the LFC staff director handed out lists of projects and said the legislators would be responsible for vetting theirs and their predecessor’s, she added.
“I thought I would let the mayor and others who are requesting capital outlay that this is the lens that the legislators are going to be using,” McKenna said. “It’s our understanding (the LFC is) going to be a lot more strict when it comes to reauthorizations because of that 4,400 projects that are still locked up for various reasons.
“I’ll be calling your offices because I have a lot of projects that are still
Projects have better survival chances if they address health and public safety issues, promote economic development and have professional cost estimates and any needed land. McKenna also cited local governments helping fund the projects from other sources and the projects being among the top three in their annually updated five-year capital plans.
Those project lists, known as Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plans (ICIP), help in local planning and are used in seeking grants and appropriations.
Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres said he hoped the LFC would recognize that even with formal estimates, costs are being driven up by labor shortages, supply issues and inflation. He cited an upgrade to part of Old Highway 44 in the town where the engineering consultant’s estimate of $1.2 million now is $3.8 million.
The town’s top ICIP item is $500,000 to plan a new Bernalillo Fire Department main station than currently is estimate to cost an additional $6.5 million over the following two budget years to construct and furnish.
Joining the town breakfast for the first time were newly elected District 23 Rep. Alan Martinez, R-Bernalillo, and District 44 Rep. Kathleen Cates, D-Corrales.
“I am a resource,” Martinez said. “My job is to make sure that Santa Fe is paying attention to communities like Bernalillo and Sandoval County because that’s my community, you are my neighbors.”
Cates noted the LFC is favoring so-called brick-and-mortar projects that don’t add jobs and programs that face cuts when the oil boom goes bust.
“We would like to think we have this much money forever, but we may not,” she said. “So we need to invest in equipment and infrastructure.”
For Sandoval County, the top ICIP project continues to be Paseo del Volcán, a 30-mile limited-access roadway eventually linking U.S. Highway 550 in northwest Rio Rancho with Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque. About seven miles in complete in Rio Rancho as ongoing land purchases and construction creep closer to Bernalillo County.
The ICIP ask this year is $5 million in the 2023-24 budget year and $4.5 million the year after.

Beyond a desire for legislative largesse, the town and county share some policy priorities, most also endorsed by the county and municipal associations. Those include allowing critical jobs such as certified utility workers and others to return to work while maintaining their retirement.
That option currently is limited to some law enforcement positions.
“We are exporting talent,” County Manager Wayne Johnson said during the
legislative breakfast. “They have the skills and are not done working.”
The town and county also are in agreement on doing more to address the need for more behavioral health services in the state.


Bill Diven

Bill Diven is a former web producer at KRQE-TV and is the news editor for the Sandoval Signpost.

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