U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today voted to give final approval to legislation that will send millions of dollars to New Mexico to keep our state's highways and public transit systems in top shape. The bill is now ready to be signed into law.
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act or MAP-21 bill reauthorizes the Department of Transportation's transportation programs through fiscal year 2014. It authorizes about $356 million for highway projects in New Mexico this fiscal year, $356 million for 2013 and $359 million for 2014.
Additionally, the bill authorizes millions for public transit projects in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Farmington, as well as other smaller communities throughout the state ($32 million for FY 2012; $38 million for FY 2013; and $39 million for FY 2014). And it doubles to $30 million the annual amount set aside for a Bingaman initiative that funds public transit in tribal communities throughout the country, and re-authorizes at $450 million per year the Indian Reservation Roads grant program.
"Safe and reliable roads are important to ensuring public safety and is important to promoting economic development. This bill is an investment in our state and in its economy," Bingaman said.
Congress also voted to keep subsidized student loan rates from doubling to 6.8 percent. As a result, subsidized students loan rates will remain at 3.4 percent. The rate increase would impact 7.4 million students, including 39,875 students in New Mexico. The Department of Education estimates that the average student would pay an additional $1,000 per year for each year a student originates a new loan.
"If we had not taken this step, the cost of a college education would have risen for thousands of New Mexicans," Bingaman said.
The bill also contains an amendment Bingaman co-authored that reauthorizes for one year at $300 million the Department of Agriculture's Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Program. The extension would mean $12.3 million for 22 counties in our state that rely economically on national forest lands.
Additionally, that provision fully-funds the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program through 2013 at $393.4 million (same as FY 2012). PILT compensates counties for federal land that cannot be a source of property taxes. On average, 32 New Mexico counties share about $35 million in PILT payments annually.