SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico House panel on Friday added more spending items to a massive bill that’s focused on funneling federal pandemic relief funding toward broadband projects and road infrastructure.
One amendment included by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee calls for using $50 million to build a rural hospital. While a location for the hospital has yet to be determined, some legislators were leaning toward building it in Valencia County.
Another amendment consolidated $123 million in internet funding to allow state officials flexibility to decide which technology to use. New Mexico has considered everything from traditional fiber optic cable to satellites and blimps.
Republican committee members pointed to $25 million in existing internet projects that have stalled due to a lack of funding.
“They’ve been vetted. They’ve been approved, and they’re sitting on a shelf lacking funding,” said Rep. Randal Crowder of Clovis.
Broadband also was also discussed in the Senate, with one lawmaker announcing that state officials are looking to purchase a new form of satellite internet for rural students — most of whom have lacked access all through the pandemic.
The state Public Education Department is working on a deal to connect rural students through StarLink, a SpaceX satellite network that will be offering service to the public in New Mexico next year. Agency spokeswoman Judy Robinson said the cost would be $1.6 million for the first year of service and for the installation of receivers.
The legislation also includes $142 million for roads and $2 million for a teacher training fund.
Boosting the training fund is aimed at pulling the state out of a growing teacher shortage that has swelled to around 1,000 unfilled vacancies. Supporters say the bill could support as many as 1,500 educators and aspiring educators.
“Our teacher shortage is acute,” Democratic Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces said, adding that he wanted aspiring teachers to know the Legislature is taking action.