Lawmakers bemoan backlog of capital projects but move bill forward

By Gabrielle Porter, The Santa Fe New Mexican A $5 billion traffic jam of unfinished capital projects around the state, some of them now as many as eight years in waiting, riled up lawmakers in a powerful legislative committee Tuesday morning. Members of the Senate Finance Committee voted in favor of Senate Bill 246, a measure […]

Lawmakers bemoan backlog of capital projects but move bill forward

By Gabrielle Porter, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A $5 billion traffic jam of unfinished capital projects around the state, some of them now as many as eight years in waiting, riled up lawmakers in a powerful legislative committee Tuesday morning.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee voted in favor of Senate Bill 246, a measure to reauthorize funds for projects that were funded through the capital outlay process in recent years but have been delayed.

But some lawmakers, including committee Chairman George Muñoz, D-Gallup, gave their approval with a major asterisk: They don’t want to keep approving new projects until that backlog of old projects has been addressed.

“At some point we’ve got to fix that problem we’ve created for ourselves,” Muñoz said. “I think this is the last year for [reauthorizations].”

Capital outlay pays for projects all over the state — roads, broadband, playgrounds, hospitals and more — typically on a one-off basis that requires close coordination with local-level entities like cities and counties. But in the last few years, many projects have taken longer to get out the door and the money allocated for them — which now accounts for $5 billion — goes unspent.

The dust-collecting funds for extensions on more than 250 projects could be better spent in plenty of ways, Muñoz complained, but instead “we’re just sitting here with blinders on.” He said next year, he doesn’t want to see any new projects, only “backfill” projects. 

“We can do things that can actually get completed,” he said. “… We’re going to draw the line in the sand.”

The total funding requested for this year’s new capital outlay projects hasn’t been calculated yet.

Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, questioned whether the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, which plays a key role in capital outlay, might be nudged to help move things more quickly.

Sen. Nancy Rodriquez, D-Santa Fe, who is sponsoring both the reauthorization bill and Senate Bill 275 for new capital outlay projects, said some of the problem lies with small local entities that don’t get paperwork in quickly enough, a problem she said has “been discussed thoroughly.”

The bottlenecked projects have raised concerns in recent months as inflation drives construction and supply costs higher, taking infrastructure project price tags along with it.

Both Woods and Muñoz have suggested halting new capital outlay projects for a period of time, while Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat, told The New Mexican last month he would support legislation imposing time frames for completing state-funded projects.

Sen. Crystal Brantley, R-Elephant Butte, pointed out in some cases, the projects that need funding extensions are to buy vehicles.

“I don’t know how anyone couldn’t get a vehicle purchased in five years,” she said. 

The committee ultimately voted 8-1 to send the measure to the full Senate, with only Brantley voting against it. 

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