December 9, 2021

Senate committee hears discussion on $35 million of relief act money

Wikicommons

New Mexico State Senate.

The state Senate Finance Committee heard from two departments that will receive one-time funds of $35 million total if HB 2 passes.

The state Senate Finance Committee did not take action on HB 2, as the bill still sits in the  House Appropriations and Finance Committee which originally intended to meet Wednesday to vote on the bill. But state Rep. and HAFC Chair Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said during the House floor meeting Wednesday that HAFC would not meet that day.

Lundstrom said on Tuesday that HB 2 needed some language cleanup, and appeared to be willing to consider a new appropriation to help the state’s chile farmers with the red chile harvest. HB 2 appropriates the federal American Rescue Plan Act money of $1.1 billion into a contingency fund of the state’s general fund. State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said that by putting the money into the state’s general fund, that meant that federal timelines on the money would no longer apply. Maintaining the money in a contingency fund enables the state to track and report on expenditures to the federal government, an official with the state Department of Finance previously said.

HB 2 also enables the legislature to appropriate some of the federal dollars during the second special session toward some agencies and state projects.

Two state agencies, the Economic Development Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, gave presentations Tuesday before the state Senate Finance Committee over how the one-time infusion of money could help.

HB 2 appropriates $20 million to EMNRD to improve state parks. Sarah Cottrell Propst, EMNRD Secretary, said the department has a backlog of $30 million worth in capital outlay projects in state parks.

“We could certainly chip away at that,” she said of the money.

Other money EMNRD would receive, if HB 2 passes and is signed by the governor, would include $5 million for orphan wells. Cottrell Propst said the department could use the money to plug and reclaim orphan wells around the state.

Axie Navas, division director of the Outdoor Recreation Division of the Economic Development Department, said HB 2 would provide $7 million for a trail grant program and $3 million for an outdoor equity fund, which helps to encourage outdoor access. Navas said the outdoor equity fund has “had enormous benefit to the state’s young people.”

Several state Senators brought up trails or state parks in their districts they felt needed attention during the nearly two-hour meeting. But state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, I-Albuquerque, cautioned about the fact that the monies the legislature would be appropriating are one-time infusions of funds. He said he was worried that, in the future, the executive branch would expect the funding to become recurring in the budget.

“We need to be clear between the legislative and executive branches of what really is the true recurring commitment of the legislature. This is one of the most important reasons why we had to go to the Supreme Court to have the right to sit in this room. Because when the executive creates recurring expenditure obligations using one-time dollars, they’re not the ones who have to write the check,” he said.