New Mexico this spring passed the largest infrastructure spending package of its kind in years, but local officials across the state have been slow to complete a multitude of so-called “brick-and-mortar” projects authorized more than three years ago.
For around one-quarter of the 642 capital outlay projects approved in 2016, for instance, local officials have reported spending less than half the $102.5 million appropriated for those projects by the New Mexico Legislature, including such things as roads, buildings and athletic fields.
And local officials haven’t reported spending any money at all for 64 of the projects approved in 2016 and valued at a total of $9.4 million.
This is some of the data available on a new online tool made public Friday by the office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The database, created by the Department of Finance and Administration, allows residents, legislators and local officials to track the progress of infrastructure projects.
“I want New Mexicans to be sure their local governments are putting their tax dollars to work, to be sure my administration is providing support to address problem areas that have lingered from years past,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
The dashboard aims to bring more accountability to a system that has long lacked transparency and drawn criticism for allowing politicians to dole out money to favored projects. There is no requirement, for instance, that individual lawmakers disclose which projects they’ve supported, and the Senate blocked a proposal this year to bring more transparency to the system.
The dashboard allows users to see how much money has been spent on specific projects dating back to fiscal year 2016 and includes metrics such as funding sources, expiration years and balances.
A percentage-of-spending figure shows the amount for which local governments have requested reimbursement from the state for each project. So, it’s possible that local entities have spent more than what is reported but haven’t asked the state to pay them back yet.
Most of the projects approved in 2016 have until 2020 or 2021 to complete spending. If local officials do not do so by the expiration date, the funds will be diverted for other purposes.
“Not doing anything with a 2016 appropriation is bad,” said Wesley Billingsley, capital outlay bureau chief at the Department of Finance and Administration, who added that the dashboard and an increased emphasis by the current administration on executing projects would hopefully speed them up.
“When you give someone four years to do a project, there probably isn’t that sense of urgency to get it done,” he said. “With the new governor wanting to get projects closed out faster, hopefully we can see a shift.”
Among Santa Fe projects approved in 2016 that appear behind in spending is a $100,000 project to improve the Center for Contemporary Arts. That project, overseen by the Cultural Affairs Department, is listed as having spent no money.
Only 16.5 percent of the $122,000 appropriated for a Santa Fe County fire station in Madrid has been reported spent, according to the dashboard.
And Santa Fe Public Schools has only reported spending 39 percent of the $35,000 allocated for a Capital High School practice field. When asked about the project Friday, the school district said it plans to spend the remainder of the funds before the project expires at the end of June.
On the other hand, there are, many projects that have been carried out in a timely manner. According to the dashboard, local entities have reported spending all the money they were appropriated for 312 projects approved in 2016 and valued at a total of $112.7 million.
That includes a $27 million project for an interdisciplinary science building at the University of New Mexico, and Eastern New Mexico University’s $11 million Golden Student Success Center.
Locally, all $242,000 allocated for the East Mountain area health care facility in Santa Fe County has been spent and reimbursement has been requested. The same goes for a $115,000 project for Santa Fe High’s tennis courts.
There are a number of reasons why local governments may not have spent the money they’ve been appropriated.
They may not be in compliance with the state auditor’s office, or they may have difficulty finding available contractors in rural areas. Or, required service agreements may not be in place for projects involving private entities.
The administration hopes the new dashboard will help state agencies keep track of these projects and offer local governments assistance if they see projects falling behind.
“We can provide assistance to them as well as make sure they are aware and are spending,” said Ashley Leach, director of the Board of Finance division at the Department of Finance and Administration.
Among the 2016 projects for which officials have yet to report any spending is a $2.4 million plan to renovate patrol facilities in the Department of Transportation’s District 2, in southeast New Mexico. The department has determined that project will not go forward and the funds will be returned to the state, according to finance officials.
Other 2016 projects with zero dollars spent so far include a $948,000 transportation project for Paseo del Volcan in Albuquerque, $500,000 in roadway improvements for Diné College in Shiprock and $185,000 for a Little League baseball complex in Jal.
The dashboard has a number of different settings that allow users to understand the current state of projects. One of them allows people to view projects by reversion year, which tells them the deadlines for money to be spent.
Another dashboard setting sorts projects by grant agreements, showing how many grants have been issued and executed by each state agency.
The state approved more than $900 million in funding for infrastructure projects around New Mexico in the last legislative session, thanks largely to revenue from the oil production boom in the Permian Basin.