Several lawmakers groused about losing projects in their districts, but the House approved a bill Monday slashing 119 stalled infrastructure projects at a cost of $12.5 million.
This piece originally appeared on New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
Senate Bill 8 moves on to Gov. Susana Martinez for her signature.
The legislation essentially moves nearly $90 million in unspent state dollars to New Mexico’s general fund as lawmakers try to backfill a deficit of nearly $600 million.
SB8 also cuts earmarks for water, tribal and colonias by 1 percent. But the 119 projects, virtually all of them earmarked by individual lawmakers, drew the most debate as the bill moved through the House and Senate.
The projects range from road improvements to water treatment to charter schools to playgrounds and more.
Legislative staffers pointed out that none of the projects have been started, and the bill includes a provision for local governments to keep the funding if it’s proven they are mistakenly on the list.
The problem of capital outlay projects that aren’t started or are only partially funded is one that has some calling for reform of the system. Lawmakers sometimes include projects that local governments weren’t planning for or that they don’t have enough money to construct.
Rep. Sharon Chahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, said Navajo Nation projects were being unfairly singled out in the process, with 21 projects affecting the tribe in the northwest part of the state.
“I cannot support this bill,” she said. “We’re a poor nation. We have communities that are left out, we have communities that are hurting. We have communities that would love to have cell towers.”
The House voted to approve the bill 50-13.
Legislative and administrative staff developed the list over the last six weeks, identifying projects from 2013 and 2014 with no grant agreements, expenditures or notice of obligations.
“You need to review those lists we give you that are your outstanding projects,” Legislative Finance Committee staffer Linda Kehoe told House committee members who complained about the cuts on Sunday. “A lot of the entities do not have any match money.”
House Appropriations and Finance Chairman Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, agreed the process is flawed.
“The capital outlay system begs for reform. We have to have some better process in which the money gets spent,” Larranaga said. “The pain is spread out in an equal manner here. That’s the fairest way to do this.”
Here’s a list of the deleted projects by county:
And here’s a full list of the projects eliminated: