The New Mexico Senate on Thursday approved a watered-down measure to investigate why nearly $1 billion in infrastructure money remains unspent. Senate Bill 262 next moves to the House with less than two days to go in the 2017 legislative session. The committee in the original bill would have vetted projects that are placed in most annual capital outlay bills by individual lawmakers. But a Senate Finance Committee amendment took away that authority. And a floor amendment restricted the committee to a three-year term.
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.
With business and union lobbyists backing it, a bill aimed at reforming the Legislature’s allocation of infrastructure money passed the Senate Rules Committee on Friday. After a 4-2 vote, Senate Bill 262 next goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Two Republicans, Sens. Cliff Pirtle, of Roswell, and Mark Moores, of Albuquerque, opposed the measure. The bill creates a public works interim committee comprised of 18 lawmakers to recommend projects to be funded in the follow legislative session.
Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.
“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations. Photos show sagging floors, torn carpet, broken appliances and other issues.
An interim committee to study New Mexico’s infrastructure funding is headed to the House floor after a 7-6 vote Monday. Republicans on the Taxation and Revenue Committee voted against House Joint Memorial 4 sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, while Democrats voted for it. The committee would incorporate staff from the state auditor’s office, and one Republican suggested including Department of Finance and Administration staff as well. The state’s overall infrastructure spending is divided among numerous agencies and committees. And each legislative session, lawmakers get to divvy up capital outlay money for projects in their district.
Forty years of pork-barrel infrastructure funding would end under a bill introduced Monday. Instead of individual legislators handing out small sums of bond money for everything from musical instruments and zoo animals to public buildings and water projects, Senate Bill 262 would create an 18-member legislative committee to vet, rank and recommend projects for funding. Critics say that, currently, projects often aren’t fully funded or even requested by local officials. New Mexico is the only state in the nation that allows individual lawmakers to earmark infrastructure projects for funding. If SB 262 prevails, local governments would be required to request funding by July 1 each year, and the interim public works committee would then work through the requests.
A bill requiring disclosure of legislative earmarks for infrastructure projects took its first step Monday. The Senate Rules Committee approved Senate Bill 25 in a 7-1 vote. It would require individual lawmakers’ allocations for capital outlay projects to be posted on the internet 30 days after the session ends. The Legislature typically divvies up a portion of the available infrastructure bond money among individual lawmakers. The House and Senate get equal amounts of money, with those amounts divided equally among members of each chamber.
New Mexico In Depth’s coverage of the New Mexico 2017 Legislative Session kicks off with this special edition covering a range of issues:
Campaign finance reform, Capital Outlay, and Ethics Reform
Impact of budget crisis on child welfare programs
Cannabis legalization for adult recreational use
Demographics of the legislature
Newspapers around the state published this special edition the first week of the session: Santa Fe New Mexican, Las Cruces Sun-News, Farmington Daily Times, Carlsbad Current Argus, Alamogordo Daily News, Rio Grande Sun, Silver City Sun-News, Deming Headlight, and the Ruidoso News. Be sure to follow our coverage throughout the session, here on our site and as part of a special project called People, Power, and Democracy, in collaboration with our partners–KUNM Public Radio, New Mexico In Focus, and the UNM News Port.