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Sanchez disagrees with Martinez on regional air authority bill veto


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New Mexico Lt. Gov. John Sanchez said Friday that he disagreed with Gov. Susana Martinez’s decision earlier this year to veto legislation that would have established an Independent Air Authority for Roswell International Airport and some other nearby properties.

“I think the governor and I were on different sides on that issue,” Sanchez said Friday while in Roswell.

The Regional Air Center Development Act would have established an independent authority consisting of five or nine individuals to market and manage the airport and some nearby properties owned by the city to boost economic growth in the area near the airport.

Despite passing both houses of the legislature by wide margins, Martinez vetoed the bill. She said while in Roswell last month that she vetoed the bill because authority members would be appointed rather than elected by the public.

“I was disappointed that the governor vetoed it. I do respect her reasons for it, but I think we ought to come back and look at it again,” Sanchez said.

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Sanchez called the airport one of the crown jewels of New Mexico and said he thinks the authority would not only have benefited Roswell and Chaves County but the whole southeast portion of the state.

He added he thought the authority would have helped unleash a whole new industry in southeastern New Mexico, one which has been very successful, but that the state has not seen the full benefit.

Aviation and aerospace has a long history in the state, and he said New Mexico has the potential to become a hub for plane maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO), as well as the painting of aircraft and pilot training.

Sanchez was in Roswell Friday after speaking at the 2018 Carlsbad Mayor’s Energy Summit. Sanchez and Martinez, both Republicans, are in the waning months of their administration and unable to seek re-election due to term limits.

The Permian Basin, located mainly in western Texas and a corner of southeast New Mexico, is now the most productive oil field in the world, bringing in large amounts of additional revenue to the state and creating tens of thousands of jobs, Sanchez said.

The next administration will need to support business, especially the oil and gas industry, which the state’s economy and budget have depended on.

He added that his speech at the summit was a way of both thanking those companies searching for oil in the basin and to remind them that the upcoming elections in November could affect them.

“We want to remind them that the decisions that are being made in Santa Fe and Washington, D.C. affect their ability to operate their businesses in a productive manner,” Sanchez said.

However the state’s energy is more than oil and gas.

“Our portfolio is so diverse in our state that we should look to continue to find ways to maximize that and create good opportunities to build a new economy, continue to to support traditional industries and more important maintain the next generation of young New Mexicans who don’t have to leave this state to find opportunity,” he said.

The state also depends heavily on agriculture. Sanchez said that when he embarked on a visit to China several months ago, people were surprised to hear New Mexico is one one of the largest dairy producing states and has some of the largest cheese manufacturing plants in North America.

“These are great opportunities, we need to tell the story better,” he said.

The state though needs to look beyond its traditional economic drivers — oil, gas and agriculture.

When Martinez and Sanchez were sworn into office in 2011, the state faced large amounts of debt, falling oil prices, the Great Recession, a collapsing housing market and deep cuts to federal funding. Sanchez said by diversifying the economy and budget the state can better weather boom and bust cycles in those industries.

He said the Martinez administration has worked to diversify the state’s economy.

The southern border New Mexico shares with its neighbor to the south also presents an opportunity, such as in the border crossing in Santa Teresa that had the most export jobs in the state.

Sanchez said some challenges remain to be worked out as President Donald Trump continues to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Although Sanchez said he is a proponent of free trade and does not necessarily agree with Trump’s style of negotiation, Sanchez said he does support what he calls Trump standing up for the American worker and creating a more level playing field where all companies can compete.

“I think competition is amazing,” he said. “It’s good for innovation, it’s lifted more people out of poverty and enriched the lives of so many people around the world, we just have to make sure Americans are created fairly,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.