Tracking legislator’s individual infrastructure allocations is mainly impossible

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By Gwyneth Doland

By Gwyneth Doland

Two senators contended last week that it’s clear how individual lawmakers allocate public funds under their control to capital outlay projects each year.

The remarks were made during debate by the Senate Rules Committee on a bill that would require public disclosure of how individual legislators’ allocated public funds to various capital outlay projects.

“You’re just saving the blogger the time of doing the work they need to do,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

“I know the press got on this and maybe they’re just a little lazy. It’s not rocket science,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants.

New Mexico In Depth brought up this topic in its Capital Dilemma series last fall, noting that Legislative Council Services refused to disclose individual allocations. NMID was told by LCS staff that we needed permission from each lawmaker to see a list of their final allocations to projects.

So NMID asked lawmakers to share the information. Thus far, 25 lawmakers have done so, but neither Michael Sanchez nor Clemente Sanchez have given their permission to LCS staff.

NMinDepthSince Sanchez and Sanchez suggested that reporters could easily determine what each lawmaker spent on which projects, NMID took a closer look at the allocations of the Sens. Sanchez in 2013, when each state senator could allocate $1.19 million to projects of their choosing, for a total of nearly $50 million for all 42 members of the chamber.

First, some context. It’s important to remember each lawmaker signs off on capital outlay requests made by New Mexicans during the session. Call it a wish list. The wish list is different from what each lawmaker actually spends on projects in the final capital outlay bill, which both the House and Senate pass.

For example, we know Sen. Clemente Sanchez signed off on almost $72 million for 51 requests in 2013 for his wish list and Sen. Michael Sanchez included about $54.8 million for 46 projects in his.

Both amounts exceeded the $50 million all 42 senators combined could spend. In some instances, each of the men requested the same amount of money for the same projects. That’s not unusual, because multiple legislators often sign requests for a single project.

What we don’t know is how each Sanchez spent their $1.19 million in the final capital outlay bill.

Spreadsheets of the projects in the final 2013 capital outlay bill allowed us to narrow down the projects sponsored by the two lawmakers.

Here’s a list of the projects sponsored by both Sens. Sanchez and others in the final 2013 bill. You may download it here.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez was the sole sponsor of $61,000 for a van for Acoma Pueblo.

Sen. Michael Sanchez was the sole sponsor of three projects totaling $350,000 in the final bill.

So we know they funded those projects.

But there is no way to tell where the rest of their allocations went.

Among the projects included in the 2013 bill,  four projects totaling $1.13 million listed both men as sponsors, 19 projects totaling $4.6 million listed Sen. Clemente Sanchez as a sponsor and 13 projects totaling $2.1 million listed Sen. Michael Sanchez as a sponsor.

Thirty-two of the 36 projects they sponsored that ended up in the final capital outlay bill have multiple lawmakers who originally included them in their wish lists.

If a project has multiple original sponsors, it’s impossible to tell how much each lawmaker put toward the project or if they even ultimately allocated any of their individual pots of public money to it.

For instance, Sen. Michael Sanchez put on his original wish list two projects that each had 25 sponsors – one for $235,000 for an Albuquerque media arts charter school and the other for $185,000 for solar arrays at the capitol (the latter was vetoed).

We could assume each lawmaker allocated some funds to every project on their wish list, and then, using averages, assume that each lawmaker who sponsored that final project kicked in the same amount.

But if we did that on all the projects the two Sanchezes helped fund, that would bring Sen. Clemente Sanchez’s allocations to about $1.6 million – too high – and Sen. Michael Sanchez’s allocations to just over $1 million – too low.

It also would be inaccurate to assume that every lawmaker funds, at least in part, every project on their wish list.

A search through the data provided by 25 state lawmakers who responded to our request offers a bit of context. As we can see from the data, what is in each lawmaker’s wish list isn’t always funded by that legislator in the final capital outlay bill, and things that aren’t on their wish list sometimes are:

  • House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, included six of the projects also listed by one of the Sens. Sanchez on his wish list. But he funded only one – giving $200,000 of the $425,000 total to a Belen flood control facility.
  • House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, did not contribute to either the capitol solar array or the media arts charter school project, though he included them in his wish list.
  • Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, contributed $10,000 to the solar array project, though it wasn’t in his original wish list.
  • Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, and Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, didn’t contribute to the solar array project, though they included it in their original lists.
  • Rep. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, put $30,000 into the vetoed solar array project, above what the average $7,400 would be. And he contributed $50,000 to the media arts charter, also above the $9,400 average.
  • Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, also contributed $50,000 to the media arts charter.
  • Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, included three of the projects also sponsored by one of the Sanchezes on his wish list, but didn’t actually put money into any of them.
  • Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, included the media arts charter in his wish list, but didn’t fund it in the final bill.
  • Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, put $5,000 into the solar array project, less than the $7,400 average.
  • Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, included a Santa Fe Indian School project in his wish list, but not in his final projects.

Clearly, what is in lawmakers’ capital outlay wish lists doesn’t automatically end up in the final bill, which is typically negotiated behind closed doors. And there is no way of knowing how individual lawmakers directed the use of public capital outlay funds under their control.

If you’re a lawmaker who’d like to share your capital outlay allocations from 2010 through 2015, please email the Legislative Council Service staff and ask them to share it with New Mexico In Depth.

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