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Home / Articles / News / Legacy Archives /  Shaking the Piggy Bank

Shaking the Piggy Bank

February 27, 2008, 12:00 am
By
Santa Fe legislators bring home the bacon.

It's said that making a law is like making a sausage. But in a budget year the better analogy is a pork pie: The state budget is ground up, stuffed into committees and then legislators carve out slices for their hungry home districts.

"The hands are always out over at the Roundhouse-gimme, gimme, gimme," Sen. John Grubesic, D-Santa Fe, says. "My constant refrain to all these people coming forward with their hands out was, 'There's no money. I'm sorry. Your governor has spent it building a spaceport and a bunch of other crap and he also wants to build health care on top of this.' Our budgetary outlook for the next six to eight years is bleak at best."

Indeed, while New Mexico lawmakers upped their general-fund appropriations by 6.3 percent-to approximately $6 billion-between Medicaid and government expenses, most say they had less money to play with. Still, politicos hung on to several hundred million for pet projects and one-time construction costs for areas in their constituencies.

So far, Gov. Bill Richardson has signed the bills containing the state budget and the smaller $21 million pork-filled junior budget from the '08 session that ended Feb. 14.

But two capital outlay bills-which fund larger projects in communities around the state-remain on the table; lawmakers believe Richardson will hold those appropriations hostage until they approve, during special session, Richardson's universal-health-care plan.

If Richardson signs the remaining bills without over-exercising his veto power, Santa Fe County's legislative delegation will have reserved more than $28 million for projects in the county.

For Grubesic-the second largest funding requester of the Santa Fe delegation (Rep. Ben Lujan, with $55.4 million, was the first)-those appropriations include $34.7 million in capital outlay projects ranging from improving County Road 42 between Cerrillos and Galisteo ($3 million) to new DNA sequencing equipment for the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro ($1.4 million).

Of course, legislators tend to highball their initial requests.
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"When they come in requesting the funding, it's difficult for us to know exactly how much will be available," Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, deputy chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, says. "So they estimate to the extent that they can what's needed, then when we start allocating the dollars we have to look at how much we can provide."

For example, State Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, requested $150,000 for a youth court program at Santa Fe High School. In the final version of the junior budget, the program only got $5,000. Some projects, however, were eliminated altogether.

Grubesic is still bitter over his plan for a mental-health court in Santa Fe. The bill died in committee while other junior budget projects, like Santa Fe Creative Cities Conference ($35,000), Santa Fe Fiesta ($25,000) and Santa Fe's 400th Anniversary ($25,000), survived.

"There's no rhyme or reason," Grubesic says. "I think the Creative Cities stuff is ridiculous." (He did, however, sign his name to the budget request).

As for that junior budget, here are a few other examples of where the money went:

Studies and task forces
Legislators love to spend money studying how to spend money. This session, lawmakers approved $159,000 for studies ranging from affordable housing to part-time college faculty to racial profiling in police departments. Lawmakers also approved $409,000 for various state task forces focusing on subjects including human trafficking, animal cruelty and personal-income-tax waivers for military veterans.

Bill's bills
While Richardson's health-care plan and domestic-partnership proposal died unceremoniously, the governor secured more than $300,000 for rodeo endeavors and nearly $380,000 for film projects, mostly dedicated to funding Native American and Hispanic filmmakers.

Scientology?
One of the largest single expenditures-$335,000-in the pork budget went to the controversial Second Chance drug treatment center, described generically in the bill as, "a secure, longterm, statewide, multi-jurisdictional, residential rehabilitation and transition center." The facility's philosophy is based on the teachings of science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology [Cover story, March 28, 2007: "Taking Chances"].

Rassling
The Legislature seems to have a special place in its budget for hand-to-hand combat, whether it's $16,700 for Santa Fe High School's junior wrestling program or $50,000 for New Mexico Highland University's wrestling team. Rep. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, earmarked another $5,000 for a full-contact youth self-defense program. That said, Richardson vetoed a $50,000 appropriation from Sen. Joseph Carraro, R-Bernalillo, to buy equipment for New Mexico military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Richardson's press office, the veto had less to do with upholding his presidential campaign promise to end the war than with federal regulations prohibiting state purchases of military gear.

Song and dance
More than $160,000 this year has been appropriated for music programs, including money for the jazz workshops and the symphony orchestra in Albuquerque. Most notably, however, is a $37,500 appropriation for an American Idol-style contest in which youth compete to have their songs recorded. Another $295,000 was dedicated to dance programs, including $20,000 for New Mexico State University to launch a Pan-American Dance Institute and $39,500 for a summer ballet festival in Albuquerque. Santa Fe youth dancers will receive $25,000 in professional scholarships.

 

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