SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A spending bill is on its way to the governor of New Mexico that would allocate $478 million in federal pandemic aid toward highways, internet infrastructure, tourism ads, hospital construction and more.
The state House on Thursday approved final changes from the Senate, sending the bill to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The legislature is meeting in a special session to redraw congressional and legislative political districts to conform with population shifts in the 2020 national census.
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Lujan Grisham has urged the quick deployment of federal relief aid. She has veto authority over any and all portions of the bill.
Included in the bill is at least $123 million in spending on internet projects, including “alternative broadband” using emerging technologies like wireless towers, blimps and new satellite internet networks.
The sparsely populated rural state has struggled for years to expand internet access by laying underground fiberoptic cables. The issue was pushed to the forefront during the pandemic because of inequalities in online education and healthcare access.
Senate amendments added $2 million for teacher loan repayment and $50 million for a rural hospital. The bill includes money to build libraries in Native American communities and $10 million to bolster budgets at food banks that have provided a crucial safety net during the coronavirus pandemic.
The money would come from the nearly $1.1 billion in remaining pandemic relief funds. Lawmakers want to put around half of that money in the state general fund, providing more flexibility on spending deadlines.
Lujan Grisham vetoed pandemic relief proposals from the legislature in the spring. Several senators sued successfully to assure legislative authority over relief spending.