New Mexico House bills could support rural road projects

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

A series of bills introduced by New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown would bring increased state funds to road projects throughout state and the southeast region, where oil and gas boomed, and strained roadways used by heavy industrial truck traffic.

The bills would fund specific developments while creating stronger funding mechanisms and make it easier for individuals and businesses to donate money for the projects.

Eddy County Public and Government Affairs Director Jerry Fanning said increased road improvements in the region would ensure the industry continued to function properly and provide revenue for the state.

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“If we can keep those trucks running we can keep getting that money to Santa Fe,” he said. “Those are our goals. It’s a big safety issue.”

New Mexico Cabinet Secretary of Transportation Michael Sandoval said road funds would be used across the state to increase not only roadways in urban, densely populated areas, but also to the benefit of rural communities.

“We want to try to bring in as much money as we can to go to local infrastructure. Some of that would definitely go to southeast New Mexico,” he said. “We care about the entire system. We just want all of it to just work together.”

More:NMDOT: Permian Basin oilfield roads receive millions in state funds, projects underway

Here are updates on Brown’s road bills as they proceed through the New Mexico Legislature.

Eddy County relief route

To divert heavy truck traffic around Carlsbad as work trucks move in and out of the oilfield, Brown proposed HB 327 to provide funding for a southeast relief route.

The bill would earmark $25 million in state funds to the New Mexico Department of Transportation to fund Eddy County’s southeast road loop, if passed by lawmakers.

Any funds unused for the project by the end of fiscal year 2022 would revert to the State’s General Fund.

More:17 people died on Eddy County roads last year

The bill passed out of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee and was awaiting scheduling in the Finance Committee as of Friday.

“We’ve got to get all that major, heavy truck traffic out from the middle of town,” said Wes Hooper, Eddy County director of community services. “And get it to go around. We’ve got to be able to keep the industry flowing smoothly down there.”

Support for road project donations

If House Bill 104 was passed, would alter the Corporate Income and Franchise Tax Act to allow any non-dependent tax payer donating to a county road project may apply for a tax credit of half of their donation.

The tax credit may not exceed $1 million.

Tax credits, under the bill, would be claimable until 2025.

More:Death highway: A massive oil boom in Permian Basin made rural roads dangerous

Taxpayers applying for credits could also request the donation go to a specific project, such as a road or bridge, or even a specific portion of such a project.

The county receiving the donation must agree to the request, or the donation will not be made, and funds would return to the donor.

State House Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-55)

HB 104 was referred to the House Transportation and Public Works Committee and was awaiting scheduling as of Friday.

Brown also sponsored House Bill 276 to provide a tax deduction for anyone donating to county road projects.

It passed the House Transportation and Public Works Committee and was expected to be heard by the Taxation and Revenue Committee on Monday.

More:NMDOT gets $12.5M from feds to improve U.S. 285 near Loving

HB 276, is passed, would allow donating taxpayers to claim a deduction in their net income when filing their taxes for 50 percent of the donated amount, not exceeding $1 million.

The donation would also be allowed to be earmarked for a specific project or segment.

Both HB 104 and 276 would both also require the State to create a report on donations to county road projects annual, to be presented to the Legislative Finance and Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy committees.

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Urgent Need Highway Project Fund

Brown also sought to create a fund for the NMDOT for highway projects the Department deemed to have high crash rates, and dense daily traffic.

House Bill 344 would create the Urgent Need Highway Project Fund in the State Treasury, to be administered by the NMDOT.

It would be funded, per the bill, by taking funds received by the state under the federal Mineral Leasing Act, distributing up to $25 million to the fund.

Funds would only be distributed if the Urgent Need Highway Project Fund’s balance was more than $6 million.

More:NMDOT: Funding inadequate for New Mexico's roads

HB 344 would also require NMDOT to provide an annual report by November of each year starting in 2020 to report on “urgent need” projects in each of the Department’s districts.

The bill was passed by the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, and was awaiting scheduling by the Appropriations and Finance Committee. 

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.