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House ‘junior’ bill earmarks $30.4M in spending

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A “junior” spending bill unveiled Saturday in a House committee would provide state dollars for law enforcement firearms, courtroom furniture, feminine hygiene products for public school students and a recently eliminated University of New Mexico sports team.

The $30.4 million spending plan is funded by an unprecedented New Mexico budget surplus. Most of the surplus money comes from an oil production boom in the state’s southeast corner.

Each of the 70 members of the House got to decide how to spend $400,000 under the bill, and members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee got a little extra to divvy up.

That committee unanimously approved a list of projects Saturday, though a final version of the bill is not expected to be ready until today.

The Senate is expected to roll out a similar spending bill in the coming days.

“It’s going to mean a lot to the state … and all our communities back home,” said Rep. Candie Sweetser, D-Deming.

The last time the state passed a supplemental – or “junior” – spending bill that gives individual legislators a pot of money to fund pet projects was 2007.

But top-ranking lawmakers decided to bring it back this year, due to the state’s projected $1.2 billion budget surplus.

The supplemental spending bills – House Bill 548 and Senate Bill 536 – are separate from an annual capital outlay bill that allows lawmakers to divvy up available dollars for roads, dams, sports fields and other infrastructure projects.

They also separate from the larger state budget bill that provides funding for public schools, health care and other state government programs.

Meanwhile, a list of projects included in the supplemental spending bill does not make it clear which project was funded by which lawmaker.

But House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, said House Republicans will voluntarily disclose the projects they funded in the legislation.

“That’s public money – how can you can not make it public?” Townsend said in an interview.

Proposed projects include:

⋄  $275,000 for a study of statewide comprehensive health care.

⋄  $410,000 for a new statewide criminal justice data-sharing system.

⋄  $50,000 for the police department in Anthony to buy guns and equipment.

⋄  $250,000 for the UNM women’s beach volleyball team, which was eliminated last year but could be brought back.

During Saturday’s hearing, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the chairwoman of the House appropriations committee, cautioned that the proposed funding will likely be closely vetted by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration, which had not yet weighed in on the bill.

“At the end of the day, the (Department of Finance and Administration) and the Governor’s Office are going to go through this with a fine-tooth comb,” Lundstrom said.

Any proposed funding in the bill that is ultimately unspent will go into the state’s cash reserves, she added.

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