KUNM

Capital Outlay Reform Fails

Feb 13, 2016

Lawmakers sidelined a proposal Friday to change the way New Mexico pays for public works projects.  

A broad coalition of business, labor and good government groups supported the proposal, which would have created a commission to evaluate and prioritize infrastructure projects.

Supporters argued that their plan would have made more projects happen faster, creating more jobs than any other piece of legislation.

New Mexico is the only state in the country that divvies up infrastructure funding among elected officials. Critics say the system squanders money on political pork and fails to adequately fund critical projects such as roads, bridges, dams and water systems.

Members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee were reluctant to give up control over their capital outlay budgets. Some lawmakers said that capital outlay spending is vital to their districts and funds projects that wouldn’t get money otherwise. Some from rural districts also worried that a statewide commission would ignore the needs of New Mexico’s smaller communities.

It was just too big of a pill for legislators to swallow, said one of the bills sponsors, Rep. Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso. 

“One of the big things that we’re here to do is to represent our districts, and a large part of that is bringing home money to fund projects,” Cook said. “People are just nervous about what the bill could do.”  

Credit Think New Mexico

Although the bill appears to have failed this year, supporters say they made progress, and they’ll bring the idea back again next year.

“This can sometimes be a humbling process, but we were at least able to start a productive conversation,” said Fred Nathan, the executive director of Think New Mexico, a Santa Fe based think tank that came up with the proposal.

Check out all of the content from our People, Power and Democracy project. It's a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico In DepthNew Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port at UNM. Funding for the project comes from the Thornburg Foundation.