NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – About half a billion dollars will be spent on infrastructure projects across the state. That money is coming from capital outlay funds where lawmakers get a chance to help jumpstart projects big and small. Lawmakers said for some communities, it’s tough to get the money to fix a bridge or a road and so capital outlay funds help with those needed projects.
From improving broadband, road projects, even addressing abandoned oil and gas wells and forest thinning for wildfire protection, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham approved $511-million dollars in capital outlay requests for projects across the state. “New Mexico unlike most states or perhaps any other states allow legislators, individual legislators to allocate a certain amount of money,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen (D- Santa Fe). “So there’s a big capital outlay pot and it gets divided up in different ways.”
This so-called ‘pork money’ comes from three sources: GO bonds, severance tax bonds and nonrecurring general fund revenues. The amounts vary each year depending on the economy, but state lawmakers get to funnel it directly into their communities. “The logic behind it is we know in theory what our community needs and what kind of projects are the most critical,” said Sen. Steven Neville (R- Aztec).
For example this year, some lawmakers used their money for local economic development projects, like making improvements in downtown main street districts and homeless shelters. Some money was earmarked for schools to improve ventilation and security. One of the big ticket items this year was allocating $4.9- million towards a new multi-use event center and soccer stadium in Albuquerque. Lawmakers said capital outlay funding helps with projects both big and small.
“I have communities in my district- I have four land grant communities that don’t have another source of income,” said Rep. McQueen. “So if they want money for a park or fire station or a water system, they come to me because they don’t get a share of the property taxes.”
Overall, lawmakers said these funds could help with fixing issues that need immediate attention. “If you have a bridge that’s about to washout you need to fix it and sometimes counties or cities don’t have the money to do it,” said Sen. Neville. “So capital outlay is very valuable.”
Not every request was approved. In the governor’s message, she said she vetoed a little more than $6-million worth in requests because some of those projects lack proper planning or are not ready to move forward. For the first time, the public will finally be able to see where each lawmaker allocated their capital outlay funds.
This follows a 2019 Larry Barker investigation on the lack of transparency for capital outlay spending. Lawmakers passed a bill this legislative session that will now let people search capital outlay spending made by each lawmaker. Lawmakers said that search engine should be up on the legislature’s website later this month.