Gov. Susana Martinez has opened the floodgates to competition for precious water project money, asking lawmakers to approve $112 million in capital outlay money for water initiatives in the 2014-15 fiscal year, which begins in July.
Investing in water infrastructure is key to New Mexico’s future and the governor has been wise to target capital outlay toward major projects that can make an impact on a community, rather than appropriating it in dribs and drabs on sundry projects that often are not completed but still allow local legislators to claim they brought home the bacon. In an effort to get the most bang for the buck, last May the governor instituted by executive order uniform funding criteria for capital outlay.
However, lawmakers are balking at the idea of approving a pot of money without knowing what it’s likely to be spent for. Traditionally, the Legislature controls more than two thirds of the capital outlay budget and the governor the other third. Plus, the governor holds the veto pen.
Martinez’s reluctance to provide a list of her water project priorities has drawn criticism from some lawmakers who feel she is trying to end run them.
“Gov. Martinez has not included the Legislature in how that 60 percent of capital outlay money is going to be spent,” Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said last week. “We’re told ‘trust me.’ She doesn’t include us in (deciding) how best to spend that in our communities where we know best what the needs are.”
Last week the administration released a trickle of priorities, but they only account for about $22.3 million. Legislators want more details and a full list of what the governor has in mind. Of course, they see political gain in letting her go first and then taking potshots at it.
Environment Secretary-designate Ryan Flynn has declined, saying the administration wants to work with legislators to come up with a plan. However, legislators point out Martinez announced her water initiative at a news conference without consulting them.
Also, there’s the complex and sometimes uncoordinated funding process. For example, water money now flows through seven programs. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, says he plans to introduce legislation to have one agency handle all water funds. This is an idea that deserves serious discussion.
Lawmakers are elected to make laws and approve appropriations – and to be accountable for those decision. It makes sense to streamline the process and to make smarter choices, but first there needs to be a starting point and good faith information sharing between the administration and the Legislature.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.