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SANTA FE – While moving quickly Tuesday to revive a vetoed roughly $50 million spending package, New Mexico lawmakers decided to cast a bit more light on the state’s sometimes secretive budgeting process.
Specifically, legislators agreed during a special session at the Capitol to tack on a requirement that each lawmaker’s funding allocations in the spending bill be disclosed publicly, after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed a previous version of the measure in March and said it did not represent sound fiscal policy.
Under the revived legislation, Senate Bill 1, which passed the Senate and House without a dissenting vote Tuesday, lawmakers’ funding allocations for roughly 500 projects included in the bill would be posted no later than 30 days after adjournment of the special session – or by May 5.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic governor said Lujan Grisham’s veto had set the stage for the transparency provision to be added to the spending bill, which includes funding for uranium mining cleanup, new police vehicles, domestic violence services and other projects.
“The governor’s veto of the previous iteration of the bill hinged in part on the lack of transparency in the junior bill appropriation process,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said. “In working with the Legislature to revise and improve the bill, she has been abundantly clear about her expectation that information delineating what funds were allocated by each legislator is published.”
Some legislators said they had no qualms about the disclosure requirement.
“There’s no reason to hide anything,” said Sen. Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat.
But Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, suggested the governor’s veto of the original supplemental spending bill was not motivated by transparency concerns, instead describing it as a “punitive” act.
She said lawmakers have already added many transparency measures in recent years, such as expanded webcasting of legislative committee hearings.
“It hasn’t been more transparent for decades than it is now,” Diamond said.
While the bill is largely similar to the original vetoed version, some technical changes were made and about $200,000 worth of projects was removed from the initial legislation.
In addition, lawmakers also considered adding a $1 million appropriation aimed at reducing Rail Runner ticket prices that was not included in the original version of the bill that was vetoed.
The Governor’s Office had asked the Legislature to include the funding in the revised bill, but several lawmakers said it was unnecessary since the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which operates the commuter train, received large amounts of federal relief funds that could be used to reduce ticket prices.
“I think it’s a million bucks that’s not well spent,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, who made a successful motion to have the Rail Runner funding stripped out of the spending bill.
A Lujan Grisham spokeswoman said the Governor’s Office was “disappointed” by the action, adding it would nevertheless work with Rail Runner operators to identify possible ways to reduce fares and assist commuters.
Such action could already be in the works as Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, cited a Tuesday letter from Rio Metro Regional Transit District Director Terry Doyle, who said half-price promotional fares for some types of Rail Runner passes would be provided for the next 3½ months.
Meanwhile, the governor’s veto of the original $50.4 million grab-bag of projects, often referred to as the “junior” spending bill, angered many lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – and some legislators initially expressed support for an extraordinary legislative session to override the governor’s veto.
But top-ranking Democratic lawmakers eventually reached an agreement with the Governor’s Office to have the bill brought back in a special session.
Several legislators also disputed suggestions the measure represented pork-barrel, or wasteful, spending.
“These are very important projects that had to happen in each district,” said Muñoz.
The bill passed the Senate on a 39-0 vote in the afternoon and sailed through the House 63-0 a little after 8 p.m., just 11 hours after the session started.
Dan McKay of the Journal Capitol Bureau contributed to this article.