Lawmakers look for ways to fix budget

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By Ralph Damiani

According to the Associated Press, state lawmakers looking to patch the huge hole in this year’s budget have a pot of money in front of them, but dipping into it may not be as easy as it sounds.

Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are approved by the Legislature and the governor for capital improvements around New Mexico.

These run from vans and buses to baseball fields to highway interchanges to entire buildings on college campuses.

And it can take years for the money to be spent.

Of the $3.7 billion appropriated from 2002 through 2008, $1.7 billion targeted for more than 7,000 projects hasn’t been used yet, according to a report released this month by the Legislative Finance Committee.

On many of those projects, there has been some progress – financing has been finalized, for example, or planning and design are under way.

But nearly 3,000 projects approved prior to this year, accounting for $673 million, have seen no activity or spending at all, according to the report.

Local governments or state agencies may be waiting for other funding sources to come through. Or the amount allocated may be way too small, requiring years of appropriations before a project can start.

Or there may be legal problems, or simply foot-dragging.

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