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.
Now, individual lawmakers typically get a set amount of money that they may allocate to projects requested by constituents. But many of those projects aren’t ready to be built, aren’t fully funded or weren’t requested by communities.
That’s contributed to nearly $1 billion in money sitting idle instead of being spent on construction.
“We are very excited about it because it’s eloquently written and speaks to the issue that’s of most concern to the business community,” said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. She said the bill would mean projects “can be vetted in a way that they then become reality. When they become reality, that becomes jobs.”
She was among several people speaking in favor of SB 262. Steve Kopelman, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Counties, said his members have called the current process of individual lawmakers earmarking “projects burdensome, obtuse and inequitable.”
But Moores and Pirtle said they don’t believe it’s necessary to take funding decisions away from individual lawmakers.
“I know that capital outlay is a hot topic but us in the southeastern part of the state manage to work together,” Pirtle said. “If legislators in certain communities could put aside politics and work together, you could achieve the same result.”
Other senators also expressed concerns about an interim committee being swayed by politics. But bill sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, countered that argument.
“Right now it’s fully in the hands of politicians, right? Each one of us have our own laundry list.”