Time to Reform the Capital Outlay Process Is Now
New Mexico's process for selecting, financing and monitoringconstruction projects in communities across the state is broken andthe time to fix it is now.
No other state runs its capital outlay process like NewMexico does. And while our process has some advantages — mostnotably an equitable geographic distribution of projects around thestate — its more numerous faults have made it a leadingexample of governmental folly. Requests for funding far exceedavailable funding each year, unrealistically raising the hopes ofpotential recipients and unnecessarily wasting their time andenergy. Poor planning of projects is rampant, resulting in partialfunding for projects that ultimately die from a lack of funds orsimply disinterest. Hundreds of millions of precious state dollarsare continually tied up in projects for which little or no progressis being made, limiting the state's flexibility to address emergingneeds and wasting more time and energy as those dollars areredirected in subsequent legislative sessions to projects that areready.
A more orderly, thoughtful process is needed and the relativelack of capital outlay funding that is available this year makesthis an opportune time to overhaul the process.
Two pieces of legislation currently being considered by thelegislature would help bring some sense and reason to the process.Senate Bill 79 would impose heightened review and scrutiny oncapital outlay projects by creating a legislative capital outlayreview committee and a capital outlay planning and monitoringdivision in the executive branch. Senate Joint Memorial 21 wouldrequest legislative and executive staff to work together,prioritize, review and monitor capital outlay projects.
The selection of capital outlay projects must be improved sothat the state is asked to only fund those projects that are ready.We cannot afford to tie up state funds by committing them toprojects that need additional funding from federal, local orprivate sources, that have not been adequately planned and designedor that simply are not wanted by community leaders. Legislators whorequest funding for capital outlay projects should request the fullamount needed for a particular phase of a project so that theproject can proceed. We have an obligation to do our part to ensurethat this process is efficient and effective. Equally important,the monitoring of how funds are expended needs to be improved sothat we can maintain proper accountability throughout theconstruction phase and even into the early stages of operation.
An ideal capital outlay process would ensure that members ofthe legislature are provided with a detailed analysis of eachproject's intent before making a decision on which projects tosupport, leading to much better informed decisions whilemaintaining the integral role of individual legislators in theappropriation process.
We should take this opportunity during this fiscal crisis,when funding for special projects is not plentiful, to revisit howwe manage our entire capital outlay system.
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