Cities and counties in New Mexico soon will be able to apply for $150 million in federal coronavirus relief funding.
Debbie Romero, acting Cabinet secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, told the Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday that “simplified” applications and requests for reimbursement from the state for CARES Act funding likely will be available next week.
Applications for $28 million that was set aside for tribal governments were distributed Friday, she said.
“It’s a simple agreement,” Romero said. “We’re trying to make this as simple and as painless as possible for both the tribal governments and local governments.”
Lawmakers, however, questioned how the money will be divvied up.
“How will we know that the money is being distributed fairly and without regard to playing favorites?” asked Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad.
Romero said the state’s Capital Outlay Bureau and Local Government Division have been tapped to oversee the program, partly because they perform similar work on a regular basis.
“We definitely are going to set up a criteria where everybody is treated fairly, that nobody is going to be treated any differently,” Romero said. “I think that’s why a scoring system is really important for this process, so that we know that those who need it the most are going to get it and that we’re not going to subject ourselves to criticism for it being distributed in any other way.”
Romero said the funds are only available for coronavirus-related expenses.
“Originally, there was hope that the money could be used to backfill revenue,” she said. “We’re not hearing that as much now. As a matter of fact, if you ask, everybody’s saying the same thing. It’s like crickets. Nobody is really saying anything about whether Congress is interested in expanding that authority.”
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who chairs the committee, raised concerns about another funding source — an emergency relief fund — that allows local governments to borrow money. The city of Santa Fe, for example, which is facing a projected $100 million budget shortfall, has indicated it hopes to get a loan from the state.
“If I walked into a bank and told them that I have a $100 million shortfall and the way I’m going to pay it back is being eroded, I doubt if I would get that loan,” he said, referring to gross receipts tax revenues, of which the city of Santa Fe is highly dependent.
“As they’ve dug a hole into their budget, we’re allowing them to dig a deeper hole in their budget process,” he said.
Romero said she was unaware whether any local government had expressed interest in borrowing money for operational expenses, but she told Smith she would look into the matter.
“There are some local governments that don’t even worry about the revenues, and they go on a spending spree with complete disregard about how in the heck they’re going to pay it back,” Smith said.
“The debate that was taking place, quite frankly, was that most of those dollars would be going to the city of Santa Fe on that,” he added. “And the city of Santa Fe has not had a good reputation for fiscal management for as long as their history, quite frankly.”