House backs constitutional amendment on utility services - Albuquerque Journal

House backs constitutional amendment on utility services

In this file photo, an Albuquerque Public Schools bus equipped with wifi awaits students while parked near the Pajarito Mesa Community Center. More than 20% of students in New Mexico public schools live in homes without internet subscriptions. Many rural areas of the state have no broadband internet access. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state House adopted a resolution Thursday that would ask voters this fall to amend the state Constitution to allow the spending of public money to connect individual homes to internet, electricity, water and other services.

The proposal would add an exception to the Constitution’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits directly appropriating state money to businesses, nonprofit groups and other private parties.

Democratic Reps. Anthony Allison of Fruitland and Christine Chandler of Los Alamos said they envision the state helping households that lack access to basic services, especially in rural areas and Native American communities.

“It is time to take action to fix these inequities,” Allison said. “Tens of thousands of families still live without internet, water and electricity.”

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, said he admired the goal of the sponsors but that the proposal could have unintended consequences. The anti-donation clause, he said, was enacted to prevent corruption and ensure public funds are spent for a public purpose, such as schools, roads and health care.

He and other opponents raised the prospect of the state spending money to build a road or water line on private property, with the road and water line then owned by the property owner, not the state.

Other Republican lawmakers also spoke against the proposal.

“I see significant risk, very significant risk of politically directed capital to well-connected individuals that I don’t see the state having the ability to appropriately oversee,” said Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs.

Chandler said the amendment, if approved, would simply clear the way for future state legislation that would build in safeguards for the spending of state money.

“Everyone deserves a right to water, electricity and, these days, internet services,” she said.

The proposal won approval on a 43-23 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

The legislation, House Joint Resolution 1, now heads to the Senate, which is considering a more expansive measure that would allow spending beyond water, electricity and similar services.

If both chambers adopt the same proposal, it would go before voters in the Nov. 8 general election.

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