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NM needs to make most of federal recovery aid

In southeast New Mexico, a small-town mayor is outlining his community’s needs. He has plans for a new city hall, a sewer system, expanding the health clinic, road improvements and broadband. All told, those projects total about $50 million and, if completed, would be transformational for that town.

He may be ambitious, but he has reason to be optimistic: all of those projects could be funded by COVID-recovery legislation passed by the Congress last year and the American Jobs Act as proposed by President Biden.

Speaking with that mayor, I realized that our communities and our state have an opportunity to make great strides in this recovery.

We may never see this much support from the federal government again in our lifetimes, and we must ramp up our efforts to transform New Mexico. As an appointee in the Obama administration, I worked with state leaders to deploy the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We were on the hunt to find “shovel-ready” projects across the state – projects that are fully studied, outlined, budgeted and ready to be funded. Though there was an initially large number of projects, there simply weren’t enough ready to meet the funding opportunities available.

We can’t afford to run out of projects and lose funding to more prepared, more aggressive states again. Just last year, the CARES Act made available telehealth grant funds through the Federal Communication Commission. Despite the need in New Mexico, we received only one award in that competition compared to other Western states that received nine or more awards. We must do better than that.

New Mexico can act now to prepare projects for the federal funds coming our way – some of which have to be spent by the end of this year. That means mobilizing engineers, architects, planners, contractors, unions and others to assist in rapid infrastructure project development around the long list of needs across the state.

These federal funds have the potential to have a multiplier effect on many of the proposals already underway. The New Mexico Legislature just passed legislation to transform early childhood education in our state and tax the cannabis industry. Those efforts have promise and can be far more impactful if we coordinate and use already available federal funds to fix essential infrastructure like our crumbling school facilities or the battered roads needed for effective commerce.

The American Society for Civil Engineers estimates that New Mexico has $1.4 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs and $407 million currently in school facility needs. At this moment, all the new federal funding makes that possible. Just imagine a coordinated effort by New Mexico to eliminate those needs and the impact that would have on our communities.

We need state leaders to be coordinating as ambitiously as that small town mayor and look beyond recovering from the pandemic. Let’s take this moment to make rural, frontier and urban New Mexico the best in the nation. All the pieces are there to make 2021 the year we rebuild New Mexico and surpass surrounding states. The only things that stand in the way of us putting those pieces together are time and effort.

Pivotal New Mexico is a nonprofit that assists organizations in project development and funding.

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