SANTA FE (KRQE) – Call it vital economic development money or pork.
State lawmakers were able to approve a $231 million funding package on the last day of the 2014 session. Nearly $33 million of that is earmarked for Bernalillo County, an interesting list of projects that still has to get past Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto pen.
For the second year in a row, legislators chipped in to improve the UNM baseball squad’s home ballpark. Last year, they spent $100,000 on stadium lighting. This year, there’s $260,000 set aside for something arguably more important … building real bathrooms.
“That’s a big deal,” said Ray Birmingham, Lobo baseball’s head coach. “Most of our fans have come to the game and complained about porta-potties and they shouldn’t have to go to a bathroom in a porta-potty, especially the ladies.”
Birmingham says UNM’s home stadium is the only one his team plays in without permanent bathrooms.
Lawmakers were kind in general to UNM sports, earmarking $824,450 to beef up athlete weight rooms and $110,000 for more covered shading and new goal netting at UNM’s soccer complex. The ever-popular Johnson Field is also set to get improved lighting and a better running path.
And then there’s the Albuquerque BioPark, which has just one item on the long list of capital outlay projects. This year, legislators allocated another $230,500 for a new jaguar exhibit, a little bit less than the $232,500 they approved last year. BioPark director Rick Janser say the current habitat was built in the 1970s and the new jaguar home will be better for both the animal and visitors.
“Waterfalls, climbing structures and areas where the public can see from up high, down low, through windows,” Janser said. “You can look down on the animal and if he’s in a tree, you can get closer to him.”
Janser says the new habitat should take 18 months to design and build if Gov. Martinez signs off on this year’s funding.
Other cultural facilities in the city are set to get a boost. Explora! is set to get $596,000 for an expansion. The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History has $349,000 earmarked for improvements.
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science is set to get $110,000 towards replacing the Planetarium’s projection system, but that amount isn’t nearly enough to get the job done.
“We were hoping for over half a million,” said Simone Seagle, assistant director of space science at the museum.
The capital outlay request filed for the project asks for $750,000.
That project and other partly-funded proposals could draw increased scrutiny from the governor. She’s line-item vetoed capital outlay projects in the past if the money allocated isn’t enough to complete a phase of a project or the item in question isn’t something that will last for a long time.
Gov. Martinez has a little more than two weeks to decide which projects will survive and which ones will be axed.