2016 Capital outlay bill continues past patterns of partially funded projects

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NMinDepth

Sometimes, you might get what you need.

In most instances, you get way less than what you requested.

Take, for instance five lawmakers who sought $40 million to build a Lea County judicial complex. Only $60,000 is included in House Bill 219.

Seven Albuquerque area legislators asked for $13.2 million for an aquatics park. They ended up including only $100,000.

New Mexico In Depth analyzed the 800 projects in HB 219, with 777 funded by severance tax bonds. Of those, 749 have at least one legislative sponsor – all but 132 have more than one sponsor.

NMID also examined nearly 1,300 mostly local projects totaling more than $1 billion proposed by the 112 lawmakers.

In the $166 million House bill, $123 million comes from severance tax bonds. Of that, lawmakers could divide $82 million among themselves. So each of 42 senators allocated about $976,000 to infrastructure projects they selected. And each of the 70 House members got $586,000 for their favored projects.

Paring more than $1 billion in requests to $82 million clearly requires lawmakers to make choices. But they don’t share their own individual choices with the public.

Getting more or less

NMID’s analysis does identify original sponsors of projects. And we can compare actual project funding in the bill versus requested funding.

Only 61 projects are over-funded – by about $14 million. Another 181 are funded at the level originally requested.

And 512 are under-funded to the tune of $245 million.

“The majority of the projects don’t appear to be fully funded based on the requests,” said Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico. “That’s a prescription for dollars sitting idle in a state that’s No. 1 in unemployment and 50th in job growth, which is tragic.”

One project, a “cradle to career” learning center at Albuquerque’s Explora science center for $3 million, had 73 legislative sponsors. A nonprofit organization runs the center, but the building and equipment are owned by the city of Albuquerque.

Explora Executive Director Joe Hastings said his nonprofit doesn’t employ a lobbyist. Instead, he does the legwork.

“I go to every office and talk to as many reps and senators as I can, and I tell our story and ask for their support,” he said.

Even Hastings seemed surprised to learn the level of support for the project. But, he noted, “I’m certain that the number who are following through with monetary support is much lower than that.”

HB 219 allocates only $452,000 to the project. But Hastings said that will get the learning center off to a good start.

“We’re always ready to go,” he said. “We essentially have a phasing or a segment we can do. We really never know how much we’re going to get.”

Another 51 lawmakers sponsored a $500,000 renovation at Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors state history museum. That project gets $417,175 in HB219.

A request for $105,000 for band instruments and equipment for Robertson High School in Las Vegas is only $5,000 in the final bill. Last year, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed all references to musical instruments in the capital outlay bill.

One project that is fully funded at the $20,000 level is the Clovis Zoo animals and infrastructure, sponsored by Rep. Randal S. Crowder, R-Clovis, and Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque.

Then there are the few projects that get more money than originally suggested.

For instance, 32 Albuquerque lawmakers requested a total of $15,000 for security cameras for city parks. That project is funded for $401,000.

And an Albuquerque gun violence memorial sponsored by House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, is funded at $229,000. Gentry’s bill calls for $100,000 for the memorial.

Bernalillo County, the center of the state’s population, gets the bulk of the money divvied up by lawmakers.

And here are the projects by agency:

Individual requests

Only one of New Mexico’s 112 legislators submitted requests with a cumulative total that falls within the funding available for each individual lawmaker to dole out.

You could call the requests from Sen. Lee Cotter, R-Las Cruces, modest. His one-page bill sought to fund four projects for about $600,000. They are in HB 219 at a cost of $520,000. Cotter was reluctant to talk with NMID about his requests.

“I’m not modest,” he said. “I just didn’t like very many projects that were offered.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Carroll H. Leavell, R-Jal, proposed a kitchen sink of 52 projects at a total cost of $161.4 million in his seven-page bill.

“I get that many requests from my constituents,” Leavell said. “I’m just simply passing them through.”

Of those, 27 projects (including the Lea County project) are in HB 219 for a total of $4.75 million. But Leavell and others originally requested $78.6 million for those same projects.

Leavell said even the small amount for the Lea County judicial project will be of help.

“Sixty thousand will do the planning on it,” he said. “It certainly won’t go very far toward construction. But they’ve got funding in the county for construction.”

Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, sponsored HB 219 in the Senate. He filed requests of $44.3 million for 88 projects.

Of those, 42 are funded for about $3.7 million. That’s $11.4 million less than originally requested.

“It’s a common dilemma, needless to say,” Cisneros said. “We as legislators, as well as the executive, continue to add more projects without requiring shovel-readiness and start-to-finish completions.”

Reform prospects

“There’s lots of things that are nice to have, but are not public infrastructure, do not create jobs, and many of these projects will be worn out before the bonds are paid off,” Think New Mexico’s Nathan said.

A House committee defeated a bill Cisneros sponsored to reform the capital outlay process, creating a commission to review and recommend projects to the Legislature. With at least $1 billion allocated for infrastructure projects going unspent, Cisneros said the system needs change.

“We’re back to adding more projects to a list that just keeps getting larger and larger.”

Think New Mexico advocated the change, with support from business and labor organizations. Nathan said the group will be back with reform efforts based on feedback from lawmakers this year.

“We recognize that we didn’t find common ground this year, but we got some helpful advice as to how we can get a bill that can pass and work,” he said.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Harper, the primary sponsor of HB 219, said reforming the process will be one of his top priorities this summer. He wants to cut red tape in the process, and consolidate the application process for local governments.

“The Think New Mexico proposal was a great start,” he said. “This is a statewide, enormous problem.

“This process is broken. I’m hoping over the interim we’ll have a bill that’s ready for prime time.”

Here’s a look at total funding requests and number of projects by each of the 112 lawmakers. Keep in mind that multiple lawmakers often request funding for the same project.

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