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.
Lawmakers must file public bills with lists of infrastructure projects they’d like to fund. But those bills are often a laundry list of projects with costs far exceeding the allocation for each individual lawmaker. And they don’t always reflect what an individual lawmaker chooses to fund.
“Last year I signed off on $38 million” worth of projects, said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. “When I do my final list, I’m not restricted to the things I signed.”
When a final capital outlay bill is approved, it’s unclear which lawmakers provided how much money to projects included in the bill. Legislative Council Service says the information is confidential.
And it’s virtually impossible to figure out who funded what in the infrastructure bill.
Bill sponsor Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, said it’s time to provide transparency to the process.
“When we make our final distribution of capital outlay, our final list, that is not available to the public,” Rue said. “I have a real problem with that. It’s not a gotcha kind of thing. I think our constituents have a right to know.”
But Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said he fears listing funding by individual lawmakers might encourage lawmakers to fund flashier projects such as football stadium stands or scoreboards instead of truly needed infrastructure.
“Sometimes unintended consequences of things like these will politicize the process,” he said before casting the sole vote against the measure. “All that really matters is that people’s projects got funded.”
The bill next goes to the Senate Finance Committee. A similar bill, House Bill 121, is scheduled for a hearing by the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday.
New Mexico In Depth began asking lawmakers in November 2015 to share their individual allocations.
Thus far, 37 lawmakers – 20 Democrats and 17 Republicans – have shared all or part of their infrastructure allocations from 2010 through 2016.
Here’s a searchable list of those projects. A downloadable spreadsheet is available here.
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