Legislators warn of short funds

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

With a budget shortfall estimated as high as $454 million because of
a slumping economy and lower-than-expected oil and natural gas prices,
legislators told attendants at Friday’s Association of Commerce and
Industry legislative breakfast not to get hopes up for various capital
outlay projects.

“I would love to fund all of these projects,” said Rep. Anna Crook,
R-Clovis. “It’s like telling your children it’s going to be a lean
Christmas.”

Crook and Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, were the featured guests of the
breakfast, which allowed Clovis and Curry County entities to touch base
on funding priorities for the upcoming year.

Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield said, “All signs point to Hull Street,” in reference to the Hull Street Overpass.

City Manager Joe Thomas said city officials were working on a list
of legislative priorities in the summer, but a state report the
overpass was unsafe led to a closure, and a restructuring of priorities.

“It’s affected the whole community,” Thomas said, “but it also
affects the businesses in the area (and) it affects emergency response
to those areas.”

The city did a study, Thomas said, and found that average response
time increased by 6-7 minutes when emergency vehicles have to take
alternate routes to many south Clovis areas.

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said priorities for the county
included chip seal work on 20 miles of county roads, and $6 million
between the county’s special events center, the Curry County Adult
Detention Center, the county courthouse and various road equipment and
vehicles.

Art Hull, lead lobbyist for ACI, said with all the capital outlay
requests it was important to remember financial limitations. Even with
an optimistic estimate of $75 million to $100 million in capital
outlay, the governor’s office takes a third and that leaves about
$300,000-$600,000 in capital outlay for each legislator.

Replacement of the Hull Street Overpass could run between $10
million and $12 million, and Brumfield said the combined priorities of
the city — including the wellness center, an emergency command center
and work on Martin Luther King Boulevard — are about $23 million.

Hull said the important thing to remember when building rapport that
legislators weren’t any different from most of the people at the
breakfast — they were volunteers, business people and family people as
well.

“Our legislators are volunteers,” Hull said. “They’re regular people, just like you and I.”

Kernan said she was concerned about regulations that were dissuading oil companies from staying in New Mexico.

“With regulation reform,” Kernan said, “we may be able to turn it around and keep those businesses.”

Clovis Community College representatives sought continued support
for the school budget with inflationary increases and Clovis Municipal
Schools Deputy Superintendent Joel Shirley requested funds for security
upgrades at various schools.