SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – In a follow-up to a Larry Barker investigation, New Mexicans will soon be able to see just how lawmakers are spending capital outlay funds. Before House Bill 55 passed this session, the public was in the dark about how each lawmaker was spending the public infrastructure money, but that’s about to change.
The money appropriated to lawmakers is meant to fund projects with a value of at least $10,000 and a lifespan of at least 10 years – things like parks, water systems, and road projects. But as Larry Barker uncovered in 2019, lawmakers were spending taxpayer dollars, confidentially on things that wouldn’t necessarily qualify as capital assets. “There was a push to reform capital outlay spending and I think New Mexico cited it was like a pet drinking fountain and a park. And they question whether that was a priority,” says Representative Matthew McQueen.
Under the bill, lawmakers have to publish a searchable list of capital projects that pass and the names of the legislators who allocated a portion of funds for each project. “This should absolutely be public information. It was kind of absurd that it took this long to get through. But we got through and now we can focus on bigger and better things,” McQueen says.
About half a billion dollars is expected to be divided equally between, representatives, senators, and the governor. But one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Bill Tallman says more work needs to be done and there should be a bigger focus on major projects with a statewide impact. “It just doesn’t make sense, it’s not good management, it’s not a good practice to give an equal amount to each legislator because not every legislator has the same needs,” Tallman says.
Tallman says House Bill 55 is a good first step and next they need to figure out a commission to review potential outlay projects. The governor still has to sign off on the bill and once it’s signed, it will immediately go into effect.