- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Nearly 80 percent of New Mexico’s budget for water projects from 2014 remains unspent at a time of increasing need for updated systems across the state, according to a new report from a key state legislative committee.

A staff report by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee it’s the highest percentage of idle money of its kind in the nation, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (https://goo.gl/0wpJfN).

The report is triggering another call for reform in handling capital construction initiatives.

Meanwhile, officials say the state needs more than $3 billion to finance drinking water improvements, sewage treatment and other projects statewide.

Investments in water projects could add tens of thousands of jobs annually over the next 20 years, but funding is in decline, the report states. Stalled projects are “missed opportunities to bring water and wastewater systems online to serve citizens,” it states.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, a member of the Senate Conservation Committee, said the “system needs a great deal of work and reform.”

“But in the end, it’s difficult to get beyond the politics,” Cervantes said.

The legislative report said seven of the capital outlay projects did not move forward because they could not be certified for readiness.

In 2014, more than 652 water projects totaling $700 million were proposed, but the information was ultimately not conveyed to New Mexico legislators, the report states. It goes on to say that progress reports were not released by the New Mexico Environment Department prior to the legislative session, making it difficult to “inform policy direction.”

But of the more than $83 million appropriated in capital construction funding in 2014, 79 percent had not been spent as of April of this year. At least $1 billion has been allocated to water projects since 2002.

“No single entity has oversight of water projects,” the report adds, which leaves “data scattered through the fragmented system.”

Allison Scott Majure, a spokeswoman for the state Environment Department, countered that survey results were received by the Legislative Finance Committee staff. She pointed to a new report on infrastructure development for the Construction Programs Bureau, which distributed more than $35 million in loans and grants for water development in the state in fiscal year 2016.

Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico, a public policy organization, said the legislative report demonstrates that public funds are being mismanaged.

“The LFC report illustrates that when you spend public dollars for water infrastructure projects in a hyper-political way without a merit-based plan or priorities, you are likely to end up with much of the money sitting idle on the sidelines,” he said.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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