SANTA FE – A bipartisan bill that would require more transparency in New Mexico’s system for funding infrastructure projects ran into bipartisan opposition in a Senate committee Friday.
After several rural lawmakers raised concerns about its impact, the bill failed to advance out of the Senate Rules Committee on 5-6 vote. Although the bill could be revived, the action means it’s unlikely to be approved during this year’s 60-day session.
Two Democratic senators – Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Clemente Sanchez of Grants – joined with the committee’s four GOP members to prevent the legislation from advancing.
Sanchez defended the state’s current process, saying there is “nothing corrupt” about the capital outlay system.
“I object to the press and these organizations wanting us to do the work for them,” Sanchez said.
And Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, described the legislation as aimed at an “Albuquerque problem,” saying lawmakers in his part of the state often work together to fund regional projects.
“I don’t want this to turn into a political issue where we’re funding projects to get votes,” Pirtle said.
New Mexico lawmakers typically approve a yearly funding package for roads, community centers, youth baseball fields and other bricks-and-mortar projects.
Legislators are typically allocated a certain amount of money to distribute to projects of their choosing within that package. The final list of funded projects is kept secret, although some lawmakers have decided to publicly release their allocations.
Backers of the measure, Senate Bill 144, argued that New Mexicans should be able to see the full list of funded projects.
“It is taxpayer money. It doesn’t belong to us – it belongs to the citizens of New Mexico,” said Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s sponsors. “This just makes public the final list on how we appropriate that money.”
Another supporter, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said making the capital outlay lists public would decrease the likelihood of public dollars being misused.
The measure also drew support from several groups, including the New Mexico Association of Counties, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Santa Fe-based Think New Mexico, a prominent think tank.
Meanwhile, the Friday vote could also be an ominous sign for a similar measure approved by the House this week. That legislation, House Bill 262, passed the House 68-0.