As New Mexico lawmakers work through the official second session of the 54th legislature, which is scheduled to wrap on February 20, more than $442 million in capital outlay money is up for grabs to fund any number of construction, upgrade, and rehabilitation projects across the state.
And while just under $80 million of that total has been earmarked for other purposes, that still leaves a hefty $362.5 million for use.
Both House and Senate members regularly divide up the funding for projects that are then voted up or down by the entire legislature and, finally, either approved or rejected by the Governor.
Because the capital outlay process is regularly seen as a mystifying one for many residents, and a thing of vital importance to lawmakers able to get funding for projects specific to their districts, the Construction Reporter directly asked Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for her thoughts on how the process works.
Q: The capital outlay process has been characterized as clunky and even wasteful, particularly with projects that don’t receive full funding in any one given session. What is your take on how the capital outlay system works—both its strengths and weaknesses?
Lujan Grisham: Rebuilding New Mexico’s infrastructure is a cornerstone priority of mine. The most important thing within the framework we currently have, to me, is making sure the dollars are getting out the door, the projects are getting funded and completely safely and as expeditiously as possible.
There are any number of ideas out there about how to make the system more accountable. This year, my administration launched a first-of-its kind dashboard intended to help the public track projects and expenditures and progress.
This is only the first step of what we hope will be many as we move forward. But it demonstrates, I think, my commitment to doing everything we can from the executive branch to make this progress as streamlined and publicly accessible as it can be.
Q: One charge frequently aired: The public has traditionally not been able to obtain information regarding what projects individual lawmakers are requesting funding for without the permission of those lawmakers. Is there a way to make the process more transparent?
Lujan Grisham: This is a prospective change that will have to originate within the Legislature. Certainly, I encourage lawmakers to be clear with their constituents about which projects they’ve requested and delivered and why.
Q: The nonpartisan group Think New Mexico, among others, has suggested creating an independent commission to rank state and local projects, allowing both legislators and the Governor to omit projects, but not add new ones. Could this approach work?
Lujan Grisham: It’s worth considering.
Q: And finally this:Reports by various New Mexico media sources have shown that at the end of one legislative session, nearly two thirds of the projects vetoed by former Governor Susana Martinez (Republican) were sponsored by Democrat members, while former Governor Bill Richardson (Democrat) tended to veto more projects sponsored by Republican members. Is there a way to remove politics from the process?
Lujan Grisham: I can’t rewrite history or comment on the rationale former executives took, but I can assure your readers that partisan considerations are not part of my approach to capital appropriations.
We evaluate projects for their necessity and the good they will do for New Mexicans collectively.
 The New Mexico Capital Outlay Dashboard, allowing the public, local governments and policymakers to track and analyze local infrastructure projects, can be found at www.nmdfa.state.nm.us/dfa-dashboards.aspx.
By Garry Boulard
Get stories like these right to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter