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[February 26, 2013]
Lawmakers say there's agreement over capital outlay projects
Feb 26, 2013 (The Santa Fe New Mexican - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The annual tumult arising from the Legislature and governor disagreeing over capital outlay spending might be avoided this year, after what lawmakers say is an agreement on a priority list of projects intended to boost New Mexico's construction industry.
The measure (House Bill 337), announced Monday by Democratic leaders, would mean $123 million for construction-ready projects around New Mexico.
"It's all about jobs that are ready to go, shovel-ready jobs that can get into the economy right away," said Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and sponsor of the measure, at a news media briefing.
But it hasn't been smooth sailing for Trujillo, who says he has spoken with every House member about the list.
When the Democratic leadership first unveiled its emergency capital outlay bill -- known as the Work New Mexico Act -- it included some $100 million in spending. But Republicans on the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, which Trujillo co-chairs, complained they weren't consulted and asked why some things were included, others left out. When Trujillo told them all the projects were vetted, ready to go and that, by the way, he had the votes to pass the measure without them, one lawmaker called him a bully.
So Monday's proposal was an attempt to come back with a broader bill that includes some priorities of Gov. Susana Martinez, including new voting machines and technology for Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a fellow Republican, and a south access road from Dona Ana County to the Spaceport America property east of Truth or Consequences.
House Speaker Kenny Martinez said the updated list resulted from consultations with Republican lawmakers as well as the governor and Tom Clifford, Department of Finance and Administration director. He said all the projects were reviewed by legislative staff -- including Republican staff -- and are deemed a priority by the requesting agency. Though Trujillo, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, and Democratic leaders wanted to focus on projects that would create construction jobs quickly, the new list includes software and computer purchases for the Secretary of State because Martinez specifically requested it, even though there would be no local jobs from that spending.
"Compromise is not a bad word," Speaker Martinez said. He added that they went over every item with the governor or her staff, and there were no disagreements on the statewide list. "I would be very surprised if there was a single veto," he said.
The governor agrees the list represents some progress toward better allocation of capital outlay dollars, spokesman Enrique Knell said. "The governor has worked diligently with legislative leaders for several weeks to identify substantial statewide and regional projects that improve our state's infrastructure and fix critical health and public safety needs," Knell said in an email.
"We have not yet seen the final draft of the legislation (particularly the local projects). As the governor has said, when the bill makes it to her desk, all of the projects will be evaluated on whether they have been prioritized and vetted, whether the projects are appropriate for bonding, and whether they can be completed with the funding allocated." The complete capital outlay spending plans for 2013 eventually will include another $100 million, but those will be left to the discretion of individual lawmakers. Each member of the House and Senate is allocated a certain dollar amount to earmark. Such projects are what Gov. Martinez -- like other governors before her -- has complained often include unnecessary pork.
After the 2012 session, for instance, Gov. Martinez vetoed some 200 brick-and-mortar projects totalling $23 million, including money that would have gone toward furniture and computers for Santa Fe's new courthouse, a planned botanical garden on Museum Hill, the Santa Fe Farmers Market, La Familia Medical Center and Women's Health Services, among others.
After the vetoes, Tim Korte, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration, said Martinez isn't "against mariachi bands and botanical gardens," referring to some of the projects that Martinez line-item vetoed. "The question is: What's the best way to use limited resources " he said in March 2012.
One estimate put out by the Democratic Party of New Mexico says the latest capital outlay measure would create 2,445 jobs. But that calculation would be for new capital spending, whereas the bill mostly expedites spending on projects that would have probably come about anyway -- assuming no vetoes.
But Speaker Martinez said the collaboration with the governor ensures every dollar will be approved and filter into the economy -- not left sitting in the bank, as happened last year. "We hope in some way we can send a message to Washington, D.C., that we can work across the divide," he said.
And it comes at a time when the state is experiencing a jobs recession and faces still more uncertainty over federal budget cuts and furloughs, a process called sequestration. New Mexico's economy has long been dependent on federal dollars, including spending for military bases and national laboratories.
"If sequestration goes through, the impact on New Mexico is probably devastating," Speaker Martinez said Monday. He added the federal cuts would almost certainly impact the state budget and probably result in a special session in late 2013 to revise spending targets.
Contact Bruce Krasnow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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