House OKs capital outlay bill amid scrutiny

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The House unanimously approved a $166 million capital outlay bill Monday, but not without criticism.

House Bill 219 includes $82 million in local projects designated by the 112 lawmakers. The 70 representatives could designate about $586,000 each, while 42 senators could spend about $976,000 each.

Some Democratic lawmakers criticized the bill’s lack of funding for the judiciary. And another questioned using almost $7 million in water fund money for state agency projects not approved by the Water Trust Board.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said it didn’t seem right to have the Legislature take money from a fund with a board created to review project applications and allocate the money.

“The board has made decisions” based on applications, he said. “Now they’re going to have almost $7 million less to spend.”

McCamley noted that the projects using the money didn’t appear to have any public review.

“I would like to see in the future these sorts of appropriations be more vetted and go through a much more vetted process,” he said.

He suggested the capital outlay funding system needs reform.

A bill to take infrastructure allocations away from the Legislature failed in a House committee last week.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, agreed that reform is necessary. But he said it needs to go beyond the appointed commission recommended by Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan think tank.

“The problem is much larger than that,” Harper said. “The problem is this bureaucratic mass of red tape.”

An amendment to move money to judicial infrastructure projects failed, but not after some sharp criticism of Gov. Susana Martinez and her past line-item vetoes of court funding.

“It is not secret that the executive has tried to punish the judiciary on numerous occasions,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

Earlier in the day, the House Ways and Means Committee approved Senate Bill 122, which allocates $186.3 million in general obligation bonds based on property taxes. Voters would have to approve spending on those projects in four different bond issues.

Harper successfully amended that measure to move almost $8 million from a senior center in Rio Rancho to a University of New Mexico Health Science Center building in Rio Rancho.

Department of Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron objected to the money switch, saying UNM didn’t go through her department’s vetting process for such projects.

The city of Rio Rancho is paying $12 million for the $20 million project that would provide classrooms and faculty offices.

When asked if he had assurances that Martinez wouldn’t veto the UNM project, Harper replied, “I don’t have any assurances.”

SB122 next goes to the House floor.

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