State lacks efficient system as $4.4 billion unspent, auditor says

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More than $4 billion sits idle as little progress has been made to spend down accumulated money stashed away in state coffers earmarked for infrastructure and other state projects.

New Mexico Auditor Tim Keller issued a report on the unspent money Friday morning, suggesting that spending the dollars could create thousands of jobs and give the economy a boost.

Most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes or projects, so it can’t be used to remedy a general fund deficit estimated in the hundreds of millions that lawmakers are trying to close during the 30-day legislative session.

“If we got 10 percent of this money moving, it would get tens of millions of dollars into the economy and thousands of jobs,” Keller said. “We really see this as an opportunity to move the needle in helping New Mexico.”

Keller said about $1.2 billion intended for capital outlay projects is unspent, which includes money to build roads, schools, tribal projects and infrastructure projects designated by the Legislature. Legislative staff earlier estimated the balance at $1 billion and said more than one-fourth of the unspent money is tied up in lawmakers’ local projects.

Keller’s 37-page report recommends the state develop an approach that leads to fully funded infrastructure projects, with any local matching grants lined up, among other suggestions.

He said there needs to be a better way to track such projects, too.

“There is no one right now in state government who is tracking all these projects,” he said. “There’s no transparency.”

That goes across the board, Keller said.

He noted that the Department of Game and Fish has $62 million unspent. Some of the money collected from hunting and fishing licenses – $11 million, he said – is intended to restore wildlife habitat. But that isn’t happening.

The Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management has a balance of $35 million unspent that’s mainly aimed for security projects around the state.

“It doesn’t revert so they just sit on it,” Keller said.

New Mexico In Depth is reporting on issues with legislative infrastructure projects in its Capital Dilemma series, including the failure to spend money, the failure to complete projects and a lack of transparency in how the money is allocated during the legislative session.

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