Six months before the next legislative session is not too soon for New Mexico lawmakers to commit to adjusting their spending habits.
There will be a great temptation to include more recurring expenses in an operating budget which has just increased by 14% compared to that of the previous year. That’s because many of the perverse forces that led to a revenue bonanza — and a record $8.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins in July — continue to swell state coffers.
Revenue projections for the current budget year are now more than $440 million higher than the December forecast due to a combination of factors. One is a continued increase in oil production. It won’t last forever, so lawmakers can’t act as if oil is always there to support unsustainable spending.
A larger-than-expected increase in wages and employment levels across the state also boosted personal income tax revenue. While this is good news, it’s also a pandemic stress rebound, not a bankable trend. Meanwhile, tax revenue collected on gross receipts is $248 million higher than forecast four months ago. Of course, the rising cost of goods and services fueled by inflation is a big reason for this.
New Mexico’s revenue superhaul — which includes more than $26 billion in federal pandemic relief funds — could allow for even more spending infusions in the coming year if current trends continue. maintain.
“It feels like we’re in a position where we really have the opportunity to make significant investments right now,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. an opportunity that in the 18 years I’ve been here I’ve never seen before.”
Wirth isn’t wrong – if he means investing in real infrastructure. It’s time for New Mexico lawmakers to turn a strong fiscal position into a series of one-time investments in roads, bridges, highways, broadband access – and especially water – that can grow the world. economy enough to reduce our dependence on oil and gas revenues.
Let’s start with water. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which manages irrigation for the Cochiti Dam in Bosque del Apache, warned farmers last week that the agency could run out of water in two or three weeks unless the region does not receive rain.
In addition to limited water, aging infrastructure has put Corrales farmers in a bad spot.
Last year, district crews found a sinkhole above the Corrales siphon. A 1,200-foot-long pipe, built under FDR administration, runs under the Rio Grande and uses gravity to move water inland west of the river. Crews then found a hole in the siphon but were unable to adequately drain the water to fix it. Instead, they brought two diesel-powered pumps to bring water into the main Corrales canal. But, for various reasons, they cannot let the pumps run indefinitely, which puts crops and orchards at risk. A long-term solution likely requires state funding. But it’s just one spot on a river that’s already so low that irrigation may not be possible if the rains don’t increase flows.
Government spending cannot fix a drought, but it can ensure that every drop of water is distributed as efficiently as possible.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will channel a total of $3.7 billion to the state over the next five years for infrastructure, airport, broadband and infrastructure projects. water. The federal goal is to provide safe drinking water to all Americans and eliminate lead service lines and pipes. This should help New Mexico ensure that every New Mexico finally has access to safe drinking water, especially in the Navajo Nation. But can the $355 million for water infrastructure also solve a supply problem?
Why not take a page from gubernatorial candidate Greg Zanetti’s campaign book? He calls New Mexico “the Saudi Arabia of brackish water” in reference to its billions of acre-feet of groundwater that is saltier than fresh water.
Water desalination plants powered by small modular nuclear reactors would provide high- and low-tech jobs, but also reduce pressure on oversized rivers and reservoirs, thereby ensuring more water in the system for the wildlife habitat, compact downstream bonds and agriculture. If El Paso and San Antonio, Texas can do desalination, why can’t we?
Until the drought is over, we pick winners and losers based on how we distribute water. So far, the big losers have been the small farmers, which also makes anyone who appreciates locally sourced food a loser.
In the same vein
There are many other examples where one-time spending can set the stage for long-term success. If we really want to diversify the economy, we need ubiquitous broadband. How many businesses have stopped locating here due to lack of connectivity? Federal infrastructure money will help, yes, and whatever it pays frees up NM’s “windfall” for thoughtful, targeted investments.
While we support competitive salaries for teachers, we must also recognize the importance of our children’s learning environment. Our children shouldn’t have to sweat in classrooms over 90 degrees, especially if we extend the school year into the summer months.
Legislative finance committee director David Abbey has previously said lawmakers should consider setting aside much of the new money in endowments for college scholarships or other purposes. It is essential to ensure that the Lottery and Opportunity scholarships are promises kept, especially because the jobs needed to truly grow the economy require higher education.
There are plenty of debates to be had, but the undeniable truth is that our state has a unique opportunity to invest in itself and its harsh landscape in a way that lasts for decades, if not generations.
Legislators, think big.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.