A million-dollar (or more) question that is likely to face Curry and Roosevelt county lawmakers in the New Mexico Legislature’s next session, which begins Tuesday, is how state capital outlay funds are divvied up among legislators and Gov. Susana Martinez.
Near the end of the 2012 legislative session, Martinez penciled out $22.9 million of the $146.8 million, about 15 percent of the total, in capital outlay projects that the legislature had authorized, using line-item veto. She accompanied her veto notice with sharp criticism for the legislature’s current method of allocating capital outlay funds, because, she said, it leaves too many important projects under-funded. Repairs to state government buildings, state prisons, juvenile detention facilities, state health facilities and dams were severely shorted in the bill, she said.
“Statewide,” the governor said in her message, “I was concerned by the Legislature’s decision to fund so many projects at 10 percent or less of the total cost of the project, often with no discernible plan for how the rest of the project would be funded.”
Further, she said “This bill (the capital outlay funding bill) was rushed through the Legislature without meaningful public debate, public notice, or vetting… Instead, it was brought up and passed within just a few minutes–only a few minutes of debate, late at night, for a bill that spends nearly $147 million.”
Martinez said it was left to her and her staff to deliberate over each of the project proposals, after the legislature had presented the bill with little consideration.
To most of the legislators who represent Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties, the issue is local control. They don’t want to relinquish their shares of capital outlay funding for local projects.
A fact sheet issued by the state’s Capital Outlay Bureau notes that outlay funds come mostly from general obligation bonds, which are repaid through property taxes; severance tax bonds, which are repaid with revenue from taxes on oil, gas, coal and other natural resources; and non-recurring revenue. Non-recurring revenue is “typically the money left over after the Legislature has funded state government and public school operations and set money aside for reserves,” the fact sheet said.
Usually, the fact sheet said, “the House, Senate and executive split the available capital outlay funds into thirds. More commonly, the Legislature and the executive fund some statewide and regional projects before splitting the remainder for local projects.”
Amounts for capital outlays “vary from year to year depending on the economy,” the fact sheet said. “Non-recurring general fund moneys are particularly unpredictable.”
The fact sheet notes that the annual capital outlay bill is often called the “pork” or “Christmas tree” bill, and is generally hammered out in the last two weeks of a legislative session.
Curry and Roosevelt county legislators, for the most part, say they want to hang on to their power to allocate capital outlay funds to local communities, despite the governor’s objections.
District 27 Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said legislators have knowledge of what is needed in their districts that the executive branch does not have, and he said the current system of “one-third, one-third, one-third” is fair.
“There have been times that the money has been allocated and just sat there,” he said of the legislators’ allocations, “but there are also projects that the governor has funded that never got off the ground.”
The metropolitan districts, he said, generally get more than rural districts, but rural districts sometimes need capital outlay funds more than urban areas.
“The governor is not in our towns to see what we need,” said District 7 Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview. “We can see what our needs are out here and the conditions in our local area.”
Woods said, however, he does not doubt the governor’s sincerity in her criticism of the current method of allocating capital outlay funds. “I truly think that her thought is that she can see the bigger picture,” he said, but he still stands by keeping local control over the legislature’s shares of the capital outlay pot.
In addition, he said, he plans to seek $7 million from the governor’s share of capital outlay funds to improve stable facilities at the Clovis Events Center to allow more rodeo and equestrian events there.
District 63 Rep. George Dodge, D-Santa Rosa, is just as adamant as Woods on retaining legislative privileges on allocations of capital outlay funds.
“In small, rural New Mexico communities,” he said, “capital outlay funds make a big difference. Statewide projects help the areas in which they are located.” Often, he said, that does not include communities such as Clovis and Fort Sumner in his district.
Capital outlay fund distributions, along with local allocations of gross receipts tax funds, he said, allow a lot of smaller communities “to meet their infrastructure needs and put people to work.”
District 66 Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, also advocates a continuation of the current system. “That money is sent up from the counties and should go back to the counties,” he said.
In addition, he said, capital outlay funds allocated by the Legislature are important to towns and counties in New Mexico. They would be hard-pressed to get along without them, he said.
District 64 Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said she will support cities and counties to maintain the current system of capital outlay funding. “The governor’s plan has not been well received,” she said.
District 67 Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, however, said some reform is needed.
“I’d like to see priorities based on need rather than political pull,” he said. In addition, he said, allocations for projects should be adequate to fund those projects. Too often, he said, projects receive funding that falls far short of what is needed.
“A lot of individual legislators wanted to funnel money into their districts without regard to need or whether a project is achievable,” Roch said. “I favor local control, but we have to be realistic and be good stewards of our resources. We all need to work together to make sure we get the most bang for our buck.”
Here is how Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties fared in last year’s capital outlay bill, after the vetoes:
In Curry County, the allocations included:
• $350,000 to improve a road leading to the Tres Amigas project site;
• $177,000 to purchase land around Cannon Air Force Base;
• $100,000 to purchase a fire truck for Grady;
• $50,000 to improve the water system in Melrose;
• and $5,000 to purchase vocational equipment for Melrose High School.
A $100,000 allocation to improve rural roads in the county, and a $5,000 allowance for a sign at the Lincoln-Jackson Family Center in the Clovis school district were vetoed.
In Roosevelt County:
• $186,000 was approved to design and build an addition to the medical office building at Roosevelt General Hospital; • $150,000 was reserved to improve rural roads;
• $110,000 was allocated for water system improvements in Portales;
• and $5,000 was approved to purchase and install information technology and career technology and infrastructure in the Floyd Municipal School District.
In Quay County:
• $185,000 was allocated to renovate the Quay County Courthouse in Tucumcari.