Our constituents should not have to read the fine print in order to see how their tax dollars are spent and by whom. Accounting for individual earmarking and capital outlay isn’t always transparent, but it should be.
Historically, legislators are awarded equal amounts of capital outlay to take home to their districts. Each legislator has the ability to publicize their use of those funds, which some do and some do not. If we really want transparency, every legislator should publicize every capital outlay project, every time. These expenditures are very important to every district and most critical to the smaller and sparsely populated areas. Rural districts don’t have the same ability as the Albuquerque and Bernalillo County areas. In those more populated areas, there are many representatives and senators to combine capital outlay funds. However, in rural New Mexico each legislator may represent two to six counties and must divide his or her capital outlay among many areas.
On top of capital outlay, there is another earmark taking place in a little-known process called member ads. Member ads are a financial incentive awarded to some members when money is available, sometimes only to just a few House Appropriation members.
Money used through these member ads reduces the availability of funds to all the other legislative districts because these expenditures are deducted from the total amount of surplus to which the rest share equally. I think this is little-known by most members and not fair to the rest, particularly those representing rural areas.
These expenditures should be treated as all expenditures. They should pass through the process transparently. Transparency is the process of illuminating everything; nothing should be hidden.
Capital outlay should be treated equally as well. Each legislator in each district should be treated the same. In the New Mexico Senate, because of the number of constituents that they represent, members have equal amounts in capital outlay. It should be no different in the House of Representatives, and how these members spend their money should not be “sometimes transparent.” It should be transparent all the time, and the same should be true for every dollar spent by a legislator whether they are in Appropriations or not.
This year a new process has been proposed (by Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe). This process would cause half the money to be transparent and expose the other half to possible darkness. I don’t believe this is in the best interest of our state or the credibility of your legislator. All expenditures should be readily transparent. All committee members should be treated equally, regardless of committee assignment. Under this new process, it is controlled by the speaker and could be used to indirectly help some to bring more bacon home to some districts while other districts may be left high and dry.
If this Legislature wants to be different from Washington, members will need to stand up and make the process really transparent every time. Our constituents have the right to real transparency, not an illusion.