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Senate approves $166M public works package

SANTA FE, N.M. — A mini-filibuster by a senator upset over several project swaps in the Legislature’s annual capital outlay bill wasn’t enough to derail the $166 million plan for funding building and renovation projects across the state.

With the Senate eventually voting 41-0 in favor of House Bill 219, the legislation now goes to the governor.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, railed against the bill for nearly an hour, arguing that the House Ways and Means Committee’s changes to the bill diverted about $7 million from water projects funded by the original legislation.

Those projects were vetted and put forward under the state’s Water Project Fund, created in 2001 to oversee and fund water conservation and management projects in the state.

The House version of the bill, which was eventually approved by the Senate floor in a unanimous vote, took funding from five of those water projects and promised the money instead to other projects.

The other projects included $1.1 million for a fire station at the Santa Teresa airport and $1.5 million to administer projects addressing surface and river water around the state.

Cervantes said the switch of projects is a demonstration of what some say is wrong with the state’s capital outlay process.

Some, he said, say New Mexico is “one of the least favored” capital outlay systems in the nation.

“And now we might be seeing why,” he said.

An effort this session to reform the capital outlay process, which has been criticized for being secretive, failed in a House committee.

Most of the funding for the projects included in the capital outlay bill — about $123 million — comes from bonds backed by future severance tax revenue.