There’s not much to like about the appropriations bill approved, in a paroxysm of “bipartisan” dunderheadedness, by the New Mexico House of Representatives.
Raises for “public servants” and more subsidies for doomed-to-fail “investments” in “early childhood education” are beyond disappointing, but “$80 million in onetime funding for road projects statewide” shouldn’t be overlooked.
The state’s road fund is supported by taxes on gasoline tax and diesel, as well as a weight-distance tax on truckers, vehicle-registration fees, and federal dollars. It’s the primary mechanism for infrastructure spending in the Land of Enchantment. In FY 2019, it will spend about $861 million.
It’s certainly true that the road fund’s funding levels have suffered from a dismal economy, telecommuting, electric cars, and increasing fuel efficiency. But simply shoveling more revenue at the account ignores some salient facts and ignores other approaches that promise more bang for taxpayers’ bucks.
First, infrastructure in New Mexico is not in crisis. According to the Reason Foundation’s latest analysis of “the performance of the 50 state-owned highway systems,” the Land of Enchantment ranks 11th overall — better than each of our neighbors. And a report released earlier this week, by the American Roads and Transportation Builders Association, found that just “251 of the 3,999 bridges in New Mexico — or 6 percent — are structurally deficient.”
Second, there are several policy reforms that would boost infrastructure-expenditure efficiency without costing a dime. Repealing — or at the very least, reforming — the state’s prevailing-wage mandate is long overdue. And shifting revenue generated by the motor-vehicle excise tax from the General Fund to the road fund, as HB 70 proposes to do, is a no-brainer.
Third, New Mexico has wasted — and plans to continue to waste — massive sums on demonstrably failed infrastructure projects. Doubling down on “Spaceport America,” with a fresh $10 million for a new hanger? It’s madness, as would be the creation of a commuter rail line between Las Cruces and El Paso.
If there were a list of ways to bungle both infrastructure spending and administration, New Mexico would have check marks next to every item. It’s clear that most elected officials in Santa Fe think that “more money!” is the best strategy. They’re wrong — spectacularly so.