Legislators frustrated by gridlock, vetoes (LC Bulletin)

Legislators frustrated by gridlock, vetoes

By Todd G. Dickson andRichard Coltharp

Las Cruces Bulletin

At recent legislative updates to local groups, lawmakers reported frustrations with partisan gridlock that stalled desired legislation by both Democrats and Republicans, as well as vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez.

The 60-day session did accomplish its main goal of setting a $6.23 billion budget and some minor legislation passed, but a lot of major legislation on issues rangingfrom economic development to water policy died in committees of the House and Senate.

Longtime Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, spoke at the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce Legislative Update Breakfast Friday, April 17, and focused on capital outlay spending the session failed to produce.

“You’ve probably heard about the capital outlay and the $264 million that was left on the table,” Smith said. “But there’s an additional $800 million in the capital outlay pipeline already, that’s been not moving for three to four years. The Legislature does not have enforcement powers. That’s the executive branch. So the capital outlay process is broken.”

Smith also wondered aloud about the way roads are funded in New Mexico.

“We have $1.4 billion in highway debt. But ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ is a question that’s hardly ever asked in state government,” Smith said. “We’ve funded roads with the severance tax, and we’ve funded roads out of the vehicle excise tax, which is $150 million, but 60 to 80 percent of that is going to education.

“We’ve had no fuel tax increase in 26 years; it’s still at 17 cents. Meanwhile, the last few administrations have encouraged bonding to fund roads.”

Smith said the breakdown in deciding on the proper source of road funds led to other needed projects also being stalled.