It takes more than money to make something work. More money – and New Mexico has a lot right now – will have a limited impact if it’s put into a system that works poorly.
Clearly, many services and programs in New Mexico are underfunded, but we can have more impact if we make sure we put that money into processes that work.
You can see that idea behind much of the work being done this legislative session and it is the primary impetus behind three proposals I’m sponsoring.
Congress has appropriated billions in federal aid for the damages left behind by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, but that aid has been delayed by the massive bureaucracy of the federal emergency system.
Senate Bill 6 would set aside $100 million for no-interest loans for local governments affected by the fire that could be available quickly if the bill is signed into law. Congress really stepped up for the communities devastated by the fire, with a total of $4 billion in aid, but the process for distributing that money is just getting started and people need help now. It’s important to note, this money would eventually be paid back with the federal assistance.
Getting help to people more quickly is also the goal of Senate Bill 23, which would fix the system for distributing grants to local emergency medical services and appropriate $10 million a year to the fund. The additional funding would increase the average grant award by more than five-fold, from $7,000 to $42,000, at the same time it would reduce the amount that can be spent on administrative costs. Rural New Mexicans who need help sometimes have to wait hours for emergency medical care.
Senate Bill 23 would get more resources into communities in a more effective way.
The proposal that would have the greatest impact, however, would transform New Mexico’s long-derided system for distributing capital outlay dollars. The national Council of Development Finance Agencies recently called New Mexico’s current capital outlay process the most significant barrier to economic development in the state. The current system is grossly inefficient – billions routinely sit idle – because of poor planning and piecemeal funding. Money is sometimes appropriated to start a project without any guarantee the funds will be available later to finish it. Appropriations are made for projects neither sought by nor supported by the communities they are intended to serve. Some projects receive too little to be practical.
Senate Bill 197 would create a central infrastructure office within the executive branch with the goal of increasing the power of capital dollars to tangibly improve New Mexican lives. The office would initially study existing systems and develop a plan for improving and simplifying the bureaucracy. After the initial planning, the office would provide support to communities to plan and develop projects prior to seeking funding and help communities not only submit proposals to the Legislature, but navigate the maze of state and federal funding sources outside the legislative capital outlay appropriations.
Strong state revenues and an influx of federal dollars have created a historic opportunity to make meaningful infrastructure investments in communities across New Mexico, but the current system needs an overhaul if we want those dollars to do the most good for the most New Mexicans.
Many years, New Mexico legislators must focus on simply getting the state’s limited dollars wrapped around its many unmet needs. 2023 is different. This is a “next generation” session during which we can establish a solid foundation for wisely spending money that will stimulate our state’s growth.
Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, is a member of the Senate Finance Committee. He is also a member of the Legislative Finance, Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy, and Water and Natural Resources committees and has served as president of Luna Community College, superintendent of the Las Vegas City Schools, and mayor of Santa Rosa.