House committee kills capital outlay overhaul

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NMinDepthExpressing concerns that rural communities would no longer receive infrastructure funding, a House committee killed a capital outlay reform bill Friday morning.

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted 5-4 against favorably recommending House Bill 307, then voted 5-5 to forward the bill to another House committee with no recommendation. That effectively halts the bill.

Think New Mexico spearheaded the effort to turn funding from the Legislature to an appointed commission similar to the process for funding public education infrastructure.

The effort was supported by 10 newspaper editorial boards, several trade unions and business groups, including the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry.

NMinDepth“It’s remarkable that it’s got support from every major business group and every major labor group,” said Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico.  “That gives us something to build on for next year.

New Mexico is the only state in the nation that allows lawmakers to divvy up infrastructure money for individual projects they select. That contributes to a system that currently has more than $1 billion unspent.

There is currently no way to determine what projects individual lawmakers fund, although New Mexico In Depth has encouraged lawmakers to share their allocations from 2010 through 2015. So far, 25 lawmakers have done so.

At Friday’s hearing, lawmakers expressed reluctance to give up their role in funding capital outlay.

“We understand the needs of our communities,” said Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan. “That’s why it’s set up this way.”

Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola, said she feared an appointed commission would focus on state-level rather than local projects. She used an unincorporated community in her district that needs money for a water system as an example.

“I think the statewides would take it all up and my district would be left out,” she said. “I’d rather have water in that community than have a building in whatever.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, tried to quell such concerns, noting the economic impact improving the system would have.

“What we’re trying to do is fix the mechanism and not have $1 billion sitting there and not providing jobs for New Mexico,” Cisneros said.

Rodella and Alcon were joined in voting against the bill by Reps. James Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, and Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland.

Voting for a favorable recommendation were committee chairman Rep. James Smith, R-Albuquerque, and Reps. Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso, Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, and Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque.

Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, was absent for the vote on a favorable recommendation, but voted to pass it along with no recommendation.

Nathan said his organization still hopes an effort to require lawmakers to disclose their infrastructure allocations will make it through the Legislature in the remaining few days. And his organization will push for greater reform in 2017.

“Most legislators recognize that the system is broken,” Nathan said.”We just need to keep searching for a common solution.”

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