Lawmakers won’t get cut of infrastructure funding pie in 2017

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There won’t be any local road repairs, senior center vehicles or shade structures at schools coming from New Mexico lawmakers this year.

There’s simply not enough money to sell more than about $63 million in severance tax bonds this year because of the decline in oil and gas revenue nationwide.

That’s according to the sponsor of the annual capital outlay bill, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

“It would be a frivolous attempt for us to try to distribute that among 112 members,” Cisneros said. “If anything, right now we’re looking at using it for statewide needs.”

And the amount available won’t go far on statewide requests, which total $359 million.

Cisneros warned lawmakers weeks ago that there likely wouldn’t be any money for their special projects.

Still, New Mexico lawmakers filed bills seeking more than $479 million in infrastructure funding.

Even Cisneros listed 52 projects at a total of more than $25 million in his requests.

“Our constituents requested (the projects), No. 1,” Cisneros said. “No. 2, we weren’t sure what the capacity was going to be. It turns out it was less than we actually anticipated. Clearly, the House and Senate determined there would be no individual projects. Consequently, the exercise was futile for all intents and purposes.”

In the past, lawmakers and the governor’s staff met behind closed doors to agree on a set amount for state projects. The rest was divided equally between the House and Senate, then divided equally among lawmakers.

Each lawmaker could decide on spending their money on specific projects requested by constituents, typically local governments.

One big difference: This year, three Democratic senators – Majority Leader Peter Wirth, of Santa Fe, Mimi Stewart and Daniel Ivey-Soto, both of Albuquerque – didn’t request projects.

“In the beginning of the session in the Senate caucus we decided there was not enough capital outlay and we were in too dire a straits in the budget bill,” Stewart said.

She said she didn’t know why she, Wirth and Ivey-Soto were the only three lawmakers to avoid requesting projects even though it was clear there was no money.

“Perhaps because we want to be honest and say ‘no’ to people who come and ask us for capital outlay,” she said. “Let me tell you, it’s a steady stream of people coming to your office asking for capital outlay… It gave me a chance to explain to them about the budget.

“That money should be for a statewide jobs plan or used to shore up the budget,” she added.

New Mexico is the only state in the nation to allocate infrastructure money through legislative earmarks.

And the system has been criticized because hundreds of millions of dollars are unspent. That’s because many of the projects included are underfunded, not ready to be built or even unwanted by local governments in some instances.

This year, some lawmakers are looking to reform the process by creating an interim legislative committee that would prioritize both state and local projects. Other measures would require publication of individual earmarks and create an interim committee to study the process.

Cisneros is sponsoring or co-sponsoring some of the reform measures under consideration.

“It doesn’t do us any good to have a lot of money just sit there and not do anything.”

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