*Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add additional comments from lawmaker Pete Campos.
SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s lawmakers have requested more than $4.6 billion in state funds for projects ranging from Lake Maloya dam improvements to Lobo Little League field construction. Roads, hospitals, schools, and a handful of proposed memorials to be erected around the state are among the thousands of projects legislators have sponsored.
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The fund requests, called capital outlay, have been kept anonymous for decades. But thanks to legislation passed in 2021, we now know which legislators are requesting which projects.
To help reveal what lawmakers are prioritizing, KRQE News 13 analyzed and organized the data. The numbers show that while some lawmakers only asked for a few million dollars worth of funds, others asked for more than half a billion dollars.
What is capital outlay?
Each year, the state creates a list of capital improvement projects it aims to fund in a process called “capital outlay.” These projects include building maintenance, construction, land purchases, and similar long-term projects intended to benefit citizens. The funds cannot be used to pay salaries.
All told, the state spends hundreds of millions on such projects each year. The money, ultimately, comes from the taxpayers. Much of it originates from oil and gas industry taxes. And while the money is supposed to be put into useful capital improvements, history has shown that planned projects don’t always come to fruition.
KRQE News 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker investigated wasteful requests and spending back in 2019. At the time, he highlighted the fact that the legislators behind project requests were anonymous. In other words, there was no way to know who had asked for multi-million dollar projects — and who was to blame when those projects ended up only half-built.
Now, thanks to legislation passed last year, New Mexico’s lawmakers have to attach their names to a public list of requests. And in the 2022 legislative session, that list is made up of more than 2,000 projects. Some projects are backed by multiple lawmakers. Others have only one name attached.
This year, lawmakers have asked for over $4.6 billion in projects. But there’s only about $700 million to fund projects, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.
Lawmakers asking for the most cash
Topping the list in terms of lawmakers who are asking for the most capital outlay funding, Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil (D-Abq.) has attached her name to more than $700 million worth of projects. Many of Hochman-Vigil’s requests were also requested by other legislators, but about $47 million of her requests are unique.
She’s asked for more than 200 projects total. Among them is a request for $40 million to set up public broadband in Albuquerque, $30 million for the Gibson Health Hub — the site of the City of Albuquerque’s planned Gateway Center homeless shelter, and $30 million for arsenic treatment, water pump stations and the like in Albuquerque. She also asked for $30 million to improve Albuquerque Police Department facilities.
Making an initial request list with a large number of projects “buys me more time to learn about projects and to kind of give people an opportunity to lobby me more as to what I should make my specific allocations to,” Hochman-Vigil says. “It’s mostly because you really can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Many of the requests originate from local government agencies before being taken up by legislators. For example, the City of Albuquerque requested $20 million to construct an aquatic center at North Domingo Baca Park, near Paseo Del Norte. Hochman-Vigil and about a dozen other legislators then took up the request.
“I’m all-in for the North Domingo Baca Aquatic Center,” Hochman-Vigil told KRQE News 13. “I think that if we’re able to find a way to fund that project, it would be transformational for Albuquerque and New Mexico youth, really, because it would be the only aquatic center of its kind in the state. I think that’s precisely the kind of project that capital outlay funds should be used for.”
Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Abq.), Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana), and Rep. Georgene Louis (D-Abq.) each asked for more than $600 million in projects. Sen. Pete Campos (D-Colfax, Harding, Guadalupe) attached his name to the greatest number of projects. His name appears on more than 300 projects, the data shows. Of those, dozens are unique — that is, no other legislator requested funding for the same project.
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Campos’s unique projects amount to over $168 million in requested funds. He’s asked for $20 million for water systems at Storrie Lake in San Miguel County, $14 million for upgrades to the Las Vegas Rodriguez Sports Complex, and $25.4 million for roadwork and a community center in Watrous, New Mexico, a small community with a little over 100 residents.
“In Senate District 8 [Campos’ district], there are all the parts of seven counties in Northeastern New Mexico. And there’s a lot of need,” Campos says. “Just like there is throughout the entire state.”
Among Campos’s requests is nearly a million dollars for a COVID-19 memorial in Albuquerque. It would be a memorial “commemorating lives lost,” according to the published request.
“It’s about health,” Campos says, explaining the idea behind the proposed memorial. “Over the years, I’ve done several memorials, and it’s always to bring to light the needs that are out there.”
Campos is joined by 22 other legislators backing the COVID-19 memorial. Most of those backing the memorial are Democrats, but three Republicans also supported the project.
The lawmaker with the smallest total value requested is Rep. Phelps Anderson (DTS-Chaves, Lea & Roosevelt). Anderson explains that for him and his constituents, the focus is on fully-funding projects, whether that’s via one lawmaker’s request or by several lawmakers coming together. “In Southeast New Mexico, there’s a long tradition that we try to coordinate our capital outlay in a way to fully fund a project,” Anderson told KRQE News 13.
Anderson says one project in particular really stuck out: a $60,000 request for park improvements in Elida, a small community of about 175 people in Roosevelt county. “That effort had a young lady from Elida, who’s in high school, spearheading it,” Anderson explains. “And the project cost was $120,000. And she and a group of motivated high school students raised $60,000. And so the capital outlay was a match to that community fundraising effort to see their community park become more child friendly.”
Who asks for more? Democrats or Republicans?
There are currently more Democratic lawmakers in the Legislature than Republicans, so you’d expect Democrats, as a whole, to request more. And sure enough, House and Senate Democrats requested about four times the cash that Republicans requested.
When you look at the average amount of cash requested by the party, Democrats still requested more. Taking into account the number of Democrats and Republicans making requests, Democrats asked for more than twice as much as Republicans.
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Democrats out-requested Republicans. Data compiled from New Mexico Legislature documents.
State agencies can also get a portion of the capital outlay pie. For example, on the list of requested projects is $4.5 million to construct a taxiway at the Spaceport facility in Sierra county. The Department of Game and Fish could get more than $20 million to improve fish hatcheries, restore habitat, acquire land, and improve Bear Canyon Dam in Grant County.
Legislator and agency requests will be compiled into a bill for legislators to consider before the end of the session. The initial version of Senate Bill 212 lists some of the large projects that would support statewide agencies and specific counties. But eventually, that bill will be substituted with a more complete list of projects to be funded, including requests from the Governor.
But all of the projects, so far, are just requests. Ultimately, many will likely go unfunded.
- In the search box, try terms such as “memorial,” “schl” (school), or “dam.”
- You can also sort by clicking on a column name. Try sorting by “Total Value Requested.”