Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico's oft-maligned capital outlay system is on the brink of getting a blast of sunshine, after senators voted 40-0 on Wednesday to approve a bill requiring more disclosure of how lawmakers spend their allocated public works dollars.
The legislation, House Bill 55, would go to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's desk for final approval if the House signs off on Senate changes to it before the 60-day session ends Saturday.
Specifically, the bill would require a list be published after each legislative session – starting this year – of each legislator's final list of funded projects, along with dollar amounts.
“It's public information, no one can argue that it's not,” Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, said during Wednesday's floor debate, adding the changes would help restore public trust in the government.
While many lawmakers have voluntarily disclosed their capital outlay allocations in recent years, previous attempts to mandate the disclosure have stalled in the Senate.
And some senators expressed unease Wednesday about the change, arguing it could open up lawmakers to criticism.
Specifically, Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said lobbyists and outside groups could target lawmakers for not funding their preferred projects, saying more systemic changes need to be made to the capital outlay system.
Other senators voiced similar concerns, even while saying they were not opposed to disclosing how they spend their annual capital outlay allotments.
“I don't mind at all listing where I put my dollars,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, who nevertheless cautioned that lawmakers' allocations should be viewed from a broader statewide perspective.
In addition to secrecy concerns, New Mexico's capital outlay system for funding improvements to roads, bridges, dams and water systems has also come under scrutiny in recent years for its inefficiency.
As of November, about $1.4 billion in funding for 2,644 different New Mexico capital outlay projects remained unspent, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.
This year's $518 million capital outlay package, a separate bill, is winding its way through the Roundhouse in the final days of the session.
The bill was approved in the House via a unanimous 70-0 vote on Tuesday and is also expected to pass the Senate before legislative adjournment.