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Editorial: So What Are N.M.’s Spending Priorities?

Perhaps Gov. Susana Martinez was indelicate last week when slapping the label “wasteful pork” on projects serving everyone from Roswell’s musically inclined low-income kids to Santa Fe garden lovers.

But she is right to question whether state taxpayers should be picking up the tab — in fact using finite bonding capacity and paying over time — for what essentially is piecemeal funding for local earmarks.

Put the ensuing parade of deserving/self-serving recipients defending their right to funding aside for a minute. Because especially in this economy, when it comes to the hundreds of millions in spending approved by the 2012 Legislature, what is in question is not the validity of these types of projects but the appropriate way to fund them.

Should state taxpayers shell out $80,000 in limited capital improvement money to pay for musical instruments and bathrooms for a nonprofit that teaches at-risk Roswell youths how to play mariachi music? Should they use the 10-year payment plan for $201,000 worth of plants, trees and other materials for the Santa Fe Botanical Garden? Should they foot the bill for a $5,000 sign at the Clovis Municipal School District’s Lincoln Jackson Family Center, which houses an education program for preschool children with developmental disabilities?

Ask Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and the answer is yes. Trujillo said in a Journal op-ed piece Saturday that “local projects are in total more beneficial to New Mexicans than the big-ticket projects the governor favors.” That would seem to be the legislative consensus, based on the multimillion-dollar general obligation and severance tax bond bills it approved.

And while 20-some pages of incremental improvements to senior centers are most certainly important to those who utilize those centers — and, as Trujillo points out, to the folks getting paid to make those improvements — it is questionable if they constitute the state’s basic infrastructure responsibilities or move it forward in the way major projects would.

Under Martinez’s approach, the state would take out a mortgage on a home; under Trujillo’s, it would take out a mortgage on the salad plates in a new set of dishes.

“I don’t care if they’re a Republican earmark or a Democrat earmark,” Martinez has said. “I intend to highlight wasteful pork and veto (it), because the people of New Mexico deserve better.”

More pointedly, the taxpayers of New Mexico deserve to know their limited capital money is being invested in game-changing infrastructure and not doled out in small amounts to constituents.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.