Column: Billions Sitting on the Sidelines While Critical Ideas Lack Funding

Senate Majority Whip

As the legislative session winds down and the final budget is crafted, I can’t help but reflect on one of the great tragedies of current state government. With every tax break, education program, special interest and critical line item being accounted for, it is easy to forget that our state government is awash in cash.

There are hundreds of millions of unused tax dollars, excess bonding capacity and thousands of unfilled jobs, tucked away throughout state government. Meanwhile, critical government services, water projects, ‘big idea’ education and economic development investment proposals fall to the wayside. We have the resources to move New Mexico forward but they remain unused.

This past year, $65 million was reverted back to the general fund from state agency budgets. A large portion of what was appropriated for the Children, Youth and Families Department for positions was unused and many positions remain unfilled. In addition, $45 million for new jobs was transferred to other parts of the budget to be used for contractors, vehicles and equipment. Another $8 million for text books remains unspent. All of this is even before considering the nearly $40 million shipped out of state to for-profit standardized testing and evaluation, and the new Arizona behavioral health providers.

Beyond last year’s spending are the current balances of unspent funds: $119 million for water projects, $170 million in tobacco funds, $20 million in the Attorney General Settlement Fund and $600 million in unspent capital outlay. Together we have at least $900 million in monies collecting dust in various state accounts, even before counting another $600 million in reserves. Additionally, the New Mexico Finance Authority, charged with financing roads, schools and water projects for the state, is working at half tilt, with excess bonding capacity despite our state’s deteriorating infrastructure.

New Mexicans deserve state agencies that will allocate tax dollars efficiently and wisely. At the end of the day, these totals speak to poorly run government, alternative priorities, or both. Instead of knowingly sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars that could make an immediate impact, let’s get this money off the proverbial bench. Let’s fill positions in state government and put more New Mexicans back to work. Let’s make the necessary upgrades and repairs to our aged schools, roads and water infrastructure with the money we’ve already put aside to do so.

Public officials must put their partisan ideologies aside and tackle the issues that our state faces with courage and admit this is not a money debate. This is the time to take responsibility and use our resources in the best interest of our neighbors, our loved ones and our future generations.