New Mexico business leaders urge lawmakers to keep job fund



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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A coalition of New Mexico business leaders is urging state lawmakers to keep intact a closing fund to help recruit businesses to the state amid a looming special session and budget shortfall that is threatening various departments.

In a letter sent Thursday, the New Mexico Coalition for Jobs asked key lawmakers not to place Local Economic Development Act money into the state's general fund over fear such a move would hurt investment

"Sweeping LEDA funds back to the General Fund would put at risk several significant job creation projects actively considering investment in communities throughout New Mexico and for which the administration has pledged well more than half of the dedicated funds," the business leaders write. "Sweeping funds from this account would also take the state out of contention for future one-time opportunities that could dramatically improve the economy, and the state budget, in New Mexico."

Local Economic Development Act funds have been used to convince Ohio-based Safelite AutoGlass to bring 900 jobs in Rio Rancho and to build a drinking water well in the booming border town of Santa Teresa. The funds help with local infrastructure projects.

The letter was signed by Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce President Terri Cole and Albuquerque Economic Development Inc. President Gary Tonjes. Other leaders of business groups also signed the letter.

A chief of staff for GOP House Speaker Don Tripp did not immediately return an email. Officials for House and Senate Democrats also did not immediately return an email.

New Mexico is confronting an estimated $159 million general-fund shortfall for the budget year that ended in June, according to a report this month from the Legislative Finance Committee that drafts the annual state budget. Relatively low oil and natural gas prices have driven down royalties and severance tax revenues and contributed to a decline in other tax receipts.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chair of the Legislative Finance Committee, has warned that anywhere from $300 million to a half-billion dollars in projected state revenue could fail to materialize. A new state revenue forecast is scheduled for late August.

Smith has urged Gov. Susana Martinez to plan for a special legislative session as soon as possible and not wait until the next regular session in January.

Business leaders aren't the only group making their case amid the budget crunch. The National Education Association New Mexico, a teachers union, recently sent lawmakers a letter asking them not to cut education funding.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras.

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Russell Contreras

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