One of this session’s top priorities will be increasing New Mexico’s education funding in the wake of the recent Yazzie court decision that found that New Mexico is failing to spend enough money on programs that improve outcomes for at-risk students. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, as well as many new and returning legislators, have been strong advocates for increasing spending in the classroom, especially on proven programs like high-quality early childhood education. Unfortunately, in recent years, too much of New Mexico’s education budget has been spent on things that don’t make a difference for students. Between 1993 and 2015 (the most recent year for which national data is available), New Mexico rose from 44th in the nation to 35th in the nation for total annual spending per student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet our graduation rates and math and reading scores continue to lag behind states that spend less per student.
The New Mexico Senate on Thursday approved a watered-down measure to investigate why nearly $1 billion in infrastructure money remains unspent. Senate Bill 262 next moves to the House with less than two days to go in the 2017 legislative session. The committee in the original bill would have vetted projects that are placed in most annual capital outlay bills by individual lawmakers. But a Senate Finance Committee amendment took away that authority. And a floor amendment restricted the committee to a three-year term.
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.
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.
With the 2016 Legislature at the halfway point, infrastructure funding and reform of that funding has yet to see much action. Gov. Susana Martinez called for reforming how New Mexico allocates money for infrastructure projects in her state of the state address. Yet only one bill has had a committee hearing.