The House on Tuesday approved more than a half billion dollars worth of local projects across New Mexico in a unanimous vote with no debate. That’s because the deals on how much money cities, state agencies or townships get for anything from new baseball fields to physical improvements to police and fire departments — known in state government parlance as capital outlay projects — all happen behind closed doors. And “because every member has a little food in the trough,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. “Normally that’s the way it goes if it’s split evenly. The Senate has always been split evenly whether you’re an R or D or an Independent.”
On Friday morning, three Santa Fe firefighters in uniform walked up to state Sen. Peter Wirth in a Roundhouse hallway. They came bearing a form, and if the majority leader would sign on the dotted line, they’d be one step closer to getting new equipment.
They weren’t the only ones to seek Wirth’s help. The Palace of the Governors wanted interior renovation. The yet-to-be-constructed Vladem Contemporary art museum needed solar. Tesuque Pueblo was after remote monitoring for a drinking water system.
ByMichael Gerstein and Jens Gould, Santa Fe New Mexican |
Rarely has the phrase “financially prudent” been so hard to define at the Roundhouse.
Amid the backdrop of a flush revenue stream and looming legislative races in November, Republicans are hammering away at Democrats and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the early days of the 2020 session — contending they are overspending in a state inextricably reliant on the unpredictable oil and gas industry. Yet Democrats say their spending plan is fiscally responsible, and key components of their argument are backed by the influential Legislative Finance Committee.
An estimated 45 percent of general fund revenues are now dependent on oil and gas, and GOP members argue that when that contribution declines, the state will be hard-pressed to find funding for new budget increases in early childhood and higher education the governor has proposed this session. Lujan Grisham is proposing a $7.68 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, including a $74 million increase to the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, $200.3 million more on K-12 education, a 4 percent pay raise for teachers and $35 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program. For Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, and other Republicans in the Legislature, the governor’s proposed 8.5 percent spending increase from last year is “irresponsible.”
“When we say it’s irresponsible, those words are not hyperbole. It is a fact — it’s irresponsible.