By David Arkin
Those worried that New Mexico’s military bases could be shut down or realigned in the coming years can sleep a little easier now.
The state’s top boss has signed a bill that he and his backers say will help prevent bases from being closed.
On Friday, Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill that will eliminate the state’s compensating tax for research in New Mexico by Department of Defense contractors.
He signed the bill and other legislation that will provide tax incentives to businesses that are able to generate high wage jobs at the Association of Commerce and Industry’s luncheon on Friday in Albuquerque.
The military bill doesn’t provide any money for the bases. But supporters said it will go a long way in making the state more attractive to defense contractors.
“Taking care of Cannon was our main priority for the session,” said Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa. “It was so important. I don’t think there is another priority that would rank higher.”
The legislation places the state Office of Military Base Planning and Support under the governor’s homeland security adviser.
Also, the bill lays out groundwork for a statewide commission whose goal is to keep New Mexico’s military bases alive.
“I’m very pleased with this,” said Campos, who submitted the bill. “It’s very fulfilling when you work on a project really hard and it goes through all the steps and goes into law. This is great for the economy (in eastern New Mexico).”
As part of the measure, some meetings and information the commission is involved with are excluded from the state Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Act.
Some of the commission’s meetings will be closed to the public.
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, was among those pleased that Richardson signed the legislation.
“Cannon is certainly a viable asset to the United States,” he said.
While lawmakers who pushed for the bill are pleased, they still are anticipating more legislation involving Cannon.
About $1 million in capital outlay monies has been approved by both the House and Senate for improvements to the overpass leading to Cannon. That bill is sitting on the governor’s desk.
There’s also money tucked away in the budget for the base. The budget still has to be approved by the governor. The budget would provide $400,000 to support the Office of Military Base Planning and Support and the Military Base Planning Commission.
The U.S. Department of De-fense has announced plans to cut as much as 25 percent of the existing base capacity in the next round, which begins in May 2005.