New Mexico has approved a lot of funding for capital outlay projects.

But there’s quite a bit it hasn’t spent.

The state has appropriated around $1.8 billion in funding for infrastructure projects that remains unspent, spanning a total of 3,135 projects, according to a new Legislative Finance Committee report.

Legislative officials say more than half that balance — $961.2 million — isn’t problematic because it was just approved this year. But they say the outstanding amount approved in prior years — $627.4 million — points to inefficiencies in the state’s capital outlay process.

For instance, $136.1 million of outstanding funds were approved in 2016 and $28.1 million in 2015. There’s even an outstanding $500,000 from 2009.

“It sends a red flag about whether projects were fully funded or whether they were shovel-ready,” said Charles Sallee, deputy director at the Legislative Finance Committee.

Factors such as insufficient planning, a piecemeal approach to funding and unknown construction costs tend to delay project completion, according to a 2018 Legislative Finance Committee report, which urged policymakers to “carefully distinguish future project funding by priority, readiness to proceed, need, public purpose, and merit.”

The committee’s November quarterly capital outlay report comes after the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham unveiled a new public tool last month that allows residents, legislators and local officials to track the progress of infrastructure projects.

New Mexico’s capital outlay system 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 administration said last month it hoped a new dashboard would help state agencies keep track of projects and offer local governments assistance if they saw projects falling behind. The site 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.

The outstanding funding reported in the Legislative Finance Committee’s November quarterly capital outlay report was much higher than in previous quarters. There was $1.4 billion outstanding reported in the June 2019 report and $737.4 million outstanding reported in the March 2019 report.

In April, Lujan Grisham signed the largest infrastructure spending package of its kind in years, including more than $900 million in funding for projects around New Mexico selected by legislators and government officials.

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Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

(2) comments

Khal Spencer

But...but...we need to raise taxes!

Chris Mechels

Tracking the Pork has never been popular in the NM Legislature. The last Governor who did a good job on this was Gary Johnson, who outraged the Democrats by vetoing their pork bills.

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