December 8, 2021

Committee discusses how to spend some of the $1.1 billion in federal aid

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee held a three-hour hearing on allocating some of the $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief aid but will wait until Wednesday to vote on the bill.

HB 2, a general appropriations bill, will enable the legislature to begin spending some of the federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The 2021 Legislature already allocated the federal relief funds, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham line item vetoed that portion of the spending bill last spring. A group of state senators from both parties sued Lujan Grisham arguing that she did not have the authority to spend the money without the Legislature’s input and won their case in state Supreme Court this past fall.

Related: NM high court: Legislature, not governor, has authority over federal COVID-19 funds

Once it passes and is signed by the governor, the federal money will transfer to a contingency fund within the general fund. This will allow the legislature, when it reconvenes for its regular session in January, to decide on how to spend the rest of the money but also enables the state to track and report on how the federal money is spent for reporting purposes, an official with the state Department of Finance said during the hearing.

The allocations in the bill include things such as $26 million to the Department of Information Technology to improve broadband infrastructure statewide; $20 million to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to improve state parks across New Mexico and $3.5 million to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to improve the state’s orphan wells program.

The allocations also include the $500,000 to the Administrative Office of the Courts for Pretrial Services Monitoring and $1 million to the Legislative Council Service for expenditure, which were removed from the Feed Bill passed by the House late Monday due to mostly Republican-led concern over the inclusion of ARPA-funded expenditures in the bill the legislature uses to pay for its special session.

Related: Contentious House debate over bill to fund special session

The state would also spend $142.5 million to the Department of Transportation for various road projects including the I-40 corridor in McKinley and Cibola counties; a new state road in Santa Teresa; New Mexico Highway 128 from Carlsbad to Jal in Eddy and Lea counties and I-25 from Montgomery Boulevard to Comanche Road in Bernalillo County.

About 30 members of the public spoke, both through online media and in person. Many thanked the committee for the bill and expressed gratitude over the amounts of money allocated for outdoor recreation, state parks and improving surface water quality and river habitats.

A lobbyist for the Association of Food Banks told the committee most food banks will be out of money by February and due to supply chain issues and the increased price of gas, it could be three months before food ordered by the food banks will be delivered. Currently, the bill allocates $5 million to the Department of Human Services to assist food banks.

The committee made no commitments regarding requests from the public. But House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chair Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, did say she would make a change in the bill, in response to one funding request, to help chile farmers who received aid for the green chile harvest but not the red one.

Lundstrom said an ad hoc group would have to look at the language in a few places in the bill and “get that chile stuff in there.”

Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed the feed bill on a 36 to four vote with no debate. The feed bill contains funding for the special session. Prior to the Senate meeting, the Senate Finance Committee gave the feed bill a do pass recommendation on a vote of 8-0 with three members absent.

Hannah Grover contributed to this story.