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Air center authority bill passes NM House; Speaker says initiative will create job growth

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New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) and State Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell) have been high-profile advocates for the air center authority legislation for some time. Discussions about that and other topics took place during a November “job creation listening tour” visit that Egolf coordinated with local officials and business representatives on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The legislation to create an independent regional authority with oversight of the Roswell airfield is being considered by the New Mexico Senate now, having passed the House Thursday evening.

“It is an example of a community, a county and a region coming together around an initiative that will create jobs and help the area grow,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) as he spoke in favor of the bill.

HB 197, the Regional Air Center Special Economic District Act, which was modified a bit from the original bill introduced to the House, received 64 votes in support, with three state representatives voting against it.

“This was a top priority of about one-third of the state,” he added, explaining that it was a topic discussed for a couple of years when he traveled the state for “job listening tours” prior to the start of legislative sessions.

As written now, the bill would create a nonpolitical, regional governing authority over the airport and runways and some of the land and buildings outside the fenced airfield.

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The members of that authority would hire staff to manage the new district and would be able to obtain grants, exercise “eminent domain” rights on property, enter contracts and issue revenue bonds backed by rents or fees collected on district property.

Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell) represented Southeastern New Mexico legislators when introducing the third reading of the bill to the House and answering questions from fellow legislators.

Matthew McQueen (D-Santa Fe), one of the three to vote against the bill, asked about a few aspects of the proposed legislation during the final House discussion.

He first questioned why a special type of legislation was needed to achieve the desired outcomes, as other New Mexico airports, he said, do some of the same things with general powers of authority agreements. Then, he asked, if a special economic district is beneficial to achieve economic growth, why only former military airfields would be eligible for that designation. He noted, as an example, that an airfield in Moriarty, which was described as recognized worldwide by glider pilots, also might benefit from the provisions of the legislation.

“I want this to succeed,” responded Ezzell, “and, if it is successful, I don’t see why it could not be amended in the future.”

Ezzell made her remarks after she and McQueen had several exchanges and she explained what she considered to be unique about the Roswell airfield, an Army air base until 1967.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear the new version of the bill Friday morning, having already reviewed an original version of Senate Bill 180 on Feb. 1, when it gave a “Do Pass” recommendation to that version of proposed legislation.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, at reporter02@rdrnews.com.