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.
Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.
“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations. Photos show sagging floors, torn carpet, broken appliances and other issues.
An interim committee to study New Mexico’s infrastructure funding is headed to the House floor after a 7-6 vote Monday. Republicans on the Taxation and Revenue Committee voted against House Joint Memorial 4 sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, while Democrats voted for it. The committee would incorporate staff from the state auditor’s office, and one Republican suggested including Department of Finance and Administration staff as well. The state’s overall infrastructure spending is divided among numerous agencies and committees. And each legislative session, lawmakers get to divvy up capital outlay money for projects in their district.
Forty years of pork-barrel infrastructure funding would end under a bill introduced Monday. Instead of individual legislators handing out small sums of bond money for everything from musical instruments and zoo animals to public buildings and water projects, Senate Bill 262 would create an 18-member legislative committee to vet, rank and recommend projects for funding. Critics say that, currently, projects often aren’t fully funded or even requested by local officials. New Mexico is the only state in the nation that allows individual lawmakers to earmark infrastructure projects for funding. If SB 262 prevails, local governments would be required to request funding by July 1 each year, and the interim public works committee would then work through the requests.
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.
New Mexico In Depth’s coverage of the New Mexico 2017 Legislative Session kicks off with this special edition covering a range of issues:
Campaign finance reform, Capital Outlay, and Ethics Reform
Impact of budget crisis on child welfare programs
Cannabis legalization for adult recreational use
Demographics of the legislature
Newspapers around the state published this special edition the first week of the session: Santa Fe New Mexican, Las Cruces Sun-News, Farmington Daily Times, Carlsbad Current Argus, Alamogordo Daily News, Rio Grande Sun, Silver City Sun-News, Deming Headlight, and the Ruidoso News. Be sure to follow our coverage throughout the session, here on our site and as part of a special project called People, Power, and Democracy, in collaboration with our partners–KUNM Public Radio, New Mexico In Focus, and the UNM News Port.
Just two days after former Secretary of State Dianna Duran was released from county jail, Gov. Susana Martinez used a small part of her fifth State of the State address to support government accountability efforts. The nod from the governor came on the same day that good government group Common Cause released the results of a statewide survey showing broad support for ethics and campaign finance reforms. About 85 percent of New Mexicans want the legislature to create an independent ethics commission, according to the poll, conducted in December by Research and Polling, Inc.
But poll numbers don’t offer reform advocates any assurance that their ideas will translate into votes of support or the governor’s signature. Bills that would create some form of ethics commission have languished in Santa Fe for years. In her hour-long address to state lawmakers, Martinez focused on fighting violent crime, improving education and advancing economic development proposals, but she specifically mentioned the need to improve campaign finance reporting and close the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists. She called for changes to the state’s much-maligned capital outlay process, saying: “We need to fix the way we spend infrastructure money, because the way projects are funded now leads to unmet regional and state needs, and a string of projects that haven’t been vetted and can’t be completed.” And she said there should be full disclosure by individual lawmakers of the projects they choose to fund with their personal pots of capital outlay money.