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.
The New Mexico House of Representatives rejected the Senate’s proposed budget on Wednesday, raising objections related to teacher pay, road funding and the pension plan for public employees. The differences are not insurmountable, leaders in both chambers insisted, but they delayed final action on a whopping $7 billion spending plan. The Senate approved its version earlier in the day with a vote of 39 to 2. But the House voted overwhelmingly against that budget, leaving some questions over how to divvy up appropriations as the state increases spending by 11 percent over the current fiscal year, with big boosts in funding to schools, infrastructure and child services. “This isn’t war or anything,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat from Gallup who chairs the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
For most of this year, the budget was the hottest topic for legislators and the governor. Both branches battled, then came to an agreement no one seems enthusiastic about. The deal suggested by Gov. Susana Martinez essentially amounted to using bonding money normally reserved for state infrastructure to balance the budget. State lawmakers request the bonding money for state infrastructure projects. Issuing bonds works like a home mortgage: the state borrows money backed by oil and gas revenue and pays it back with interest over the years. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said the funding method “sets a poor precedent” while Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he didn’t “like to do this either.”
And yet, the plan passed with a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives and just two dissenting votes in the Senate.
Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.
“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations.
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.
Gov. Susana Martinez used her line-item vetoed over 150 projects and $8.2 million from the capital outlay bill (mainly from Democrats). In her signing message, Martinez said that she vetoed any projects of less than $10,000 saying, it is “because I firmly believe that funding (and usually, under-funding) so many small projects flies in the face of how our severance tax bonds should be spent.”
Related Story: Eight bills Gov. Martinez vetoed. There were 16 such projects vetoed; another 14 vetoed projects asked for exactly $10,000, while nine projects for exactly $10,000 survived. However, she also vetoed some larger scale projects. She said that many projects were not fully funded and in other cases weren’t for things the city or county asked for.
Nearly two-thirds of the 155 severance tax bond projects vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez were sponsored solely by Democrats, while only 14 projects sponsored solely by Republicans got the ax. On Wednesday, Martinez’s veto pen eliminated dollars meant to pay for capital appropriations for zoo animals, golf courses, rugby equipment, a dog park, a bicycle recycling program and more. In a sharply worded veto message, the governor explained her vetoes by slamming the Legislature for continuing the practice of earmarking dollars for pork-barrel projects while defeating proposed reforms of the system during the just-ended 30-day legislative session. Her vetoes totaled almost $8.2 million in a bill that now allocates $157.8 million in infrastructure projects around the state. Her vetoes included 17 projects of less than $10,000 and 15 projects funded at $10,000.
Amid concerns about funding of small and rural projects, a House committee rejected a bid to overhaul the state’s controversial and unique capital reform process. The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted against advancing the bill to the next committee including with no recommendation on a 5-5 vote. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, broke from party ranks to vote against the proposal. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, voted with most of the Republicans. The think tank Think New Mexico pushed the proposal, which would have modeled the process after how school infrastructure is built.
“This can sometimes be a humbling process but we appreciate the thoughtful discussion that HB 307 received,” Think New Mexico executive director Fred Nathan said in a statement.
A new survey of New Mexico business leaders shows most think there is a real problem with the influence of money in politics. And some business groups are getting serious about plans to clean up state government. Nearly 90 percent of business leaders think all political spending should be made public, according to a poll of 250 business leaders, commissioned by the Committee for Economic Development, a Washington D.C.-area think tank. It follows the release of a CED-sponsored report conducted in conjunction with the University of New Mexico, “Crony Capitalism, Corruption, and the Economy in the State of New Mexico.” The New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry is one of many groups speaking out in support of proposals they say would give voters—and businesses—more confidence in their leaders.