Democratic lawmakers have hammered Gov. Susana Martinez for not focusing on the state’s economy during the legislative session that ended last month. On Wednesday Martinez fired back, slamming lawmakers from both parties for refusing to reform the state’s ridiculed capital outlay system and funding “pork” instead of investing in job-creating projects.
“It is frustrating and disappointing to watch how the Legislature squanders critical infrastructure funding – choosing to spend money on local pork projects that often do not create jobs or develop the economy instead of pooling resources to make long-lasting, impactful infrastructure improvements throughout the state,” Martinez wrote in a strongly worded message to lawmakers.
“This happens year after year, it’s irresponsible, and the people of New Mexico pay the price,” Martinez wrote.
Perhaps most notably, the Republican governor’s rejection of projects requested by Democrats and Republicans included vetoing $8 million in funding for a health sciences building at UNM West in Rio Rancho.
According to the Rio Rancho Observer, Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, shifted the money to the UNM project from a proposed senior center. Harper’s move left the senior center project with $3.4 million — not enough for completion.
Martinez wrote that the UNM project was never mentioned in the formal review process leading up to the session.
“In this case, $8 million was removed from a senior center project in Rio Rancho that had been reviewed, recommended, and vetted throughout the summer of 2015 and was ready to be constructed and begin serving Rio Rancho’s large senior citizen population,” Martinez wrote.
The governor’s vetoes also included small projects, including $5,000 apiece for band instruments for Robertson High School in Las Vegas, renovations to the Veterans Memorial Park in Springer, and a community kitchen in Bosque Farms.
In her veto letter, Martinez complained that the Legislature spent two thirds of available money “on local pork projects – neglecting regional and statewide infrastructure needs.”
She also complained that projects the Legislature funded “were plagued with a variety of problems that illustrate just how irresponsibly capital money is spent in New Mexico.” Many projects, she wrote, were “woefully underfunded.” Other funding was “sometimes given to a local government entity for a project that the city or county does not want or need.” And some allocations went to private organizations even though the state’s Constitution forbids such use of public money, she wrote.
Martinez also slammed lawmakers for killing House Bill 307, which would have reformed the state’s capital outlay process, in the last session. The bill would have taken some of the politics out of funding public-works projects by giving a planning council the authority to pick projects.
“It was not a perfect piece of legislation, but it was unquestionably an improvement over our current method, which is devoid of planning and prioritization altogether,” Martinez wrote. “The Legislature dedicated very little time to discussing this bill and exhibited a clear lack of interest or will in reforming the capital outlay process.”
Martinez also hammered lawmakers for refusing to pass two pieces of legislation mandating public disclosure of which lawmaker or lawmakers funded a public-works project. Currently, state legislators have discretion to keep their capital-outlay requests secret.
“If the Legislature is going to allow each individual member to be their own appropriators of infrastructure dollars, the public should know which projects each legislator chose to fund (and how much he/she allocated toward each project),” the governor wrote.