ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When New Mexico lawmakers made deep cuts to balance the state budget in October, some critical funding set aside for special projects faded away across communities statewide.
Albuquerque didn’t escape the cuts. The city lost more than $1 million in funding for its own special projects, or what many know as “capital outlay projects.” But as KRQE News 13 has found, only a few neighborhoods will see the brunt of the new cuts, and they’re in the oldest parts of the city.
“I mean essentially, all of these projects are gone,” said Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, reacting to the cuts.
The funding Albuquerque lost was supposed to act as critical financing for projects including sidewalk repairs, road repairs and long-planned redevelopment. Some of the projects had been in the works for years.
“It’s a shame,” said Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton.
“It’s a loss to the community, you can’t white wash that,” said Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.
The New Mexico State Legislature wrapped their second Special Session on October 6 by passing several budget-balancing bills, including Senate Bill 8. According to a report by the state’s Legislative Finance Committee, Senate Bill 8 re-purposed about $90 million in state funds, including millions of dollars set-aside for capital outlay projects. Essentially, that money will now be used to pay the state’s daily bills.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s administration says the city stood to lose up to $15 million worth of funding for capital outlay projects, in all. Instead, Senate Bill 8 cut about $1.5 million in capital outlay funds, about 10 percent of the total capital outlay funding that was on the table.
The cuts still mean 10 different city projects have lost a chief source of funding. Eight of the 10 cuts fall within two city council districts: districts 2 and 6, which are represented by city councilors Isaac Benton and Pat Davis.
“These are big projects that people are going to notice aren’t going to get done, or in some cases, aren’t even going to be finished that are half way done,” said Davis.
Davis represents southeast Albuquerque, Nob Hill and the International District. In all, his district lost funding for four projects.
Two long-time projects that lost money are related to road work on Zuni Road, a main East-West link running between downtown and Southeast Albuquerque.
Albuquerque’s Department of Municipal Development restriped Zuni this summer to create a center turn lane and add bike lanes. However, that was only part of the project.
“If you go out there today, it’s safer to drive a car, but it’s just as dangerous for pedestrians to cross the street because we don’t have the improvements that we promised to finish,” said Davis.
State lawmakers cut $430,000 from the Zuni Road project. The money would have built new sidewalks and crosswalks along the entire stretch.
Lawmakers cut another $15,000 for a pedestrian street crossing on Zuni near Pennsylvania Street. The intersection was identified in a 2011 city-funded report as a notorious area for high-traffic pedestrian crossings and crashes. Between 2008 and November 2010, four pedestrians were hit near the intersection. One bicyclist was killed. While getting video of the intersection on a Tuesday afternoon around 1 p.m., KRQE News 13 saw around five people walking in front of cars within about five minutes.
Also in the International District, near Louisiana Boulevard and Central Avenue, the state cut $100,000 for an intersection revamp project aimed at keeping cars from making dangerous turns in and out of EXPO New Mexico. Davis says a busy nearby bus station keeps the area congested with pedestrians, while turning cars create danger for those pedestrians.
“Parts of that (intersection) will be handled with ART, but we still have that problem on Louisiana,” said Davis.
Lawmakers also cut $100,000 from a “Route 66 Story Plaza” project in the International District. According to Davis, the historical and educational project is part of the new library that is expected to be built in the International District.
“It jeopardizes not just that one-hundred thousand dollars from the state, but it jeopardizes hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment in the city and private foundations that wanted to help improve literacy down there,” said Davis.
The cuts also hit hard for city councilor Issac Benton’s district. Benton represents downtown, Old Town and a chunk of the North Valley. Benton’s district lost funding for four projects.
“Unfortunately they were heavily weighted on, first of all, on my district, but secondly on pedestrian and economic development projects, in my opinion,” said Benton.
Lawmakers cut $70,000 to restripe a one mile stretch of Rio Grande Boulevard, between Candelaria and Griegos roads. Benton says the project was ready to go.
“We already have a design that would have actually paved the bike lanes or a lot of them, repaved them new, fresh, so that was a shame to lose that money,” said Benton. “This is one of our kind of tourist corridors, when you take a ride in the North Valley.”
At Constitution and Carlisle, lawmakers took away $105,000 for “phase two” improvements to the intersection. According to Benton, the money would have built a cul-de-sac for a nearby neighborhood road. The intersection’s traffic count has changed dramatically since a gas station opened there several years ago.
“We have a longer range plan that would extend the improvements, we’ve already done some things there, but to do more things, to kind of keep the traffic working properly there and provide fair access to everyone affected by traffic from a nearby gas station,” said Benton.
Some of the biggest cuts have hit Albuquerque’s Barelas neighborhood, near downtown. An old stretch of Route 66, South Fourth Street between Coal Avenue and Avenida Cesar Chavez lost funding for pedestrian improvements, bike lanes and traffic calming work. Lawmakers cut $150,000 for that project.
Just block away at the city-owned Railyards property, the state cut $303,000 for roof replacement on the old “Tender Shop.” Benton says he hoped the roof would’ve allowed the city to open the building for new event space, allowing for some of the noisy events to be moved further away from the South Broadway Neighborhood. As KRQE News 13 reported in December 2015, some neighbors have complained to city council about loud, late night events being hosted on the Railyards property.
“That to me is inexcusable that the city did not get that roof under contract,” said Benton, of the Railyards project.
Two other Albuquerque projects lost capital outlay funding, including $115,000 for “phase two” of a redevelopment project at 57th Street and Central Avenue NW, and $100,000 for pedestrian safety, traffic calming and public art improvements on San Mateo, Gibson, Tramway and Lomas boulevards.
KRQE News 13 asked Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry if he had a say in what was cut, especially as most of it came from two council district controlled by Democrats.
“Well actually, I don’t know (why the city’s projects were cut) because we’re not involved and that discussion of those,” said Mayor Berry. “I can tell you we fight for every project for the city of Albuquerque.”
Mayor Berry said he thinks lawmakers likely took money back from projects that didn’t have all of the funded needed to finish the entire job.
“The easiest way to lose money on a sweep is to have a project that’s partially funded,” said Mayor Berry.
Mayor Berry says the Railyards’ Tender Shop roof is an example of a partially funded project. The state took back roughly $300,000 from that project, but the Mayor says his administration believes the roof is more like a $1 million dollar job. The mayor added that he believes the city has done a better job in spending the state funds on projects quickly.
“Only having a million and a half (dollars) swept this year, I think it’s a testament to the fact that we’ve been smarter as a city, we’re better at making sure those dollars are encumbered than we were eight years ago,” said Mayor Berry.
However, councilors also told us two projects the city lost were ready to go: the Zuni crosswalks in Davis’ district, and the Rio Grande Boulevard re-striping in Benton’s district. Ultimately, those projects still lost their capital outlay funds and it’s unclear exactly why it happened, beyond the need to balance the budget.
Despite the loss, Mayor Berry believes the $1.5 million in capital outlay cuts for Albuquerque is a small price to pay.
“A million and a half is not good but… I was pleased from the stand point that it could have been up to 15 million dollars and it wasn’t,” said Mayor Berry.
The mayor also pointed to another capital outlay sweep in 2010. Back then, the state cut $18 million in capital outlay funds from Albuquerque city government.
“I spent a good time in my first term explaining to people why I couldn’t build the Holocaust museum, why I couldn’t build the African history museum. That’s why the Rosenwald building on 4th Street now sits vacant,” said Mayor Berry.
Some are still frustrated though with what the state cut so quickly this time around.
“Its construction jobs in the short term that really matter to these neighborhoods, but long term, it’s about building a better community and we did our part,” said Davis. “These are real life people and it’s really frustrating if these deals get made sort of in the dark, at night and get thrust down the throats of legislators who don’t have much chance to really evaluate and hear from people who are impacted.”
“With the state the way it is, right now, with their budgets and so forth, I would just say the dynamics of leadership at the state, it’s tough, tough on cities,” said Benton.
One Albuquerque project that lawmakers tried to defund, but was saved by the Governor’s Office. That was $100,000 for street lights in the area of Trumbull Avenue and San Pedro Drive in the International District.