No angels here
It’s time for all parties to look past perceptions in the capital outlay process, which we all agree needs fixed, and start working on a real solution for the people of New Mexico.
Looking at the disproportionate share of Democrat-sponsored capital outlay projects vetoed by the governor, it would be easy to argue the executive was motivated by politics. Indeed, it would be naïve to suggest politics were not part of the decision.
And it doesn’t help the governor made only anemic attempts to contact legislators prior to the vetoes, taking from legislators the opportunity to defend the projects.
But in her veto message the governor noted what has become accepted as fact: The legislative process for selecting projects is flawed. For many years, legislators have been criticized for parceling out some, sometimes most, of the capital outlay money to individual legislators. Critics – including the Legislature itself – say the practice leads to piecemeal funding often inadequate for the project and money sometimes going to projects that nobody wants.
Millions of dollars that could be used for badly needed projects ends up sitting idle for years, until the project dies and the money is re-appropriated.
It’s a valid criticism and it was not surprising that the governor fell back on that criticism to justify her vetoes.
Equally unsurprising, the governor failed to also note that a lack of leadership from the Governor’s Office contributed to this year’s problems. The governor missed the deadline for submitting a list of the executive’s priorities and, when she did get it turned in, the list represented projects that cost far more than the money available.
She criticizes the Legislature for failing to have clear criteria in its selection process, but her process is equally murky.
The importance of local projects
Bottom line? There is plenty of blame to go around. Instead of playing that game, the Legislature and the executive must work together to distribute the state’s limited capital outlay to its most critical projects.
First and foremost, the executive must acknowledge that local projects are vital to the communities that get them. New Mexico’s small towns, cities and counties rarely have all the resources they need to address all their needs. They need help from the state and they often go to their local legislator for help getting state assistance.
Their projects rarely rise to the top of a list of statewide needs, but they are equally critical.
This year, for the first time since the economy took a dive, the Legislature had the luxury of picking some local projects for capital outlay funding. You could almost hear the sighs of relief coming from all corners of the state. Even if the governor could not actually hear them, she must recognize that local projects have to be part of the capital outlay pie.
At the same time, individual legislators need to see that not all local projects are equal, and they must drop the idea they are entitled to their very own slice of the pie. The Legislature must come up with a process that acknowledges small projects but separates the legitimate needs sought by the community from those pushed by the squeakiest wheel.
Time for a real solution
The governor says she did not aim her veto pen at projects supported by political opponents. But in the same way money to make progress on the courthouse in Mora or improvements at the Santa Fe botanical gardens might look like pork from Las Cruces, her vetoes are suspicious to those in the north.
It’s time for all parties to look past perceptions and start working on a real solution for the people of New Mexico.
Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe businessman, has represented House District 25 in Santa Fe County since 2003. He is vice chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee and a member of the House Business and Industry Committee. He is also a member of the interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy and Investments and Pensions Oversight committees.
Luciano “Lucky” Varela is vice chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee and deputy chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. Retired, Varela is also a member of the interim Investments and Pensions Oversight and Science, Technology and Telecommunications committees and the House Health and Government Affairs Committee. He has represented House District 48 in Santa Fe County since 1987.
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