Acequia ditch day suggest capital project model

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By Harold Morgan


In “Democracy in America,” published in 1835, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at length about the voluntary associations he found here. These groups of citizens came together to get things done, to build a schoolhouse, or whatever. They provided a core of what today we call civil society. 

Now the worry is about “the decay of civil society as represented in part by the decline of thousands of private, voluntary organizations (Rotarians, Elks, et. al.) that have contributed so much to social order and progress in America.”

George Melloan, the worrier here, was reviewing “The Great Degeneration,” the new book by Niall Ferguson, a Scot of some pop culture fame who teaches at Harvard. Ferguson did “Civilization: Is the West History?” a six-part documentary in 2011. 

Our capital budget offers a way to consider activities we have abdicated to government, or at least have kicked upstairs to the state from more local governments — counties and municipalities.

This year the Legislature approved spending around $650 million for hundreds of infrastructure and equipment projects statewide. About $400 million will come from severance taxes paid by extractive industry firms. General obligation bonds issued in April provide another $139 million. All but 48 of the projects are for less than $1 million.

One of the several other money sources is the acequia project fund, which is run by the New Mexico Finance Authority. Acequias are the communal irrigation associations inherited from Spain. The associations are among the more than 600 special district governments in the state. While acequia associations get state money — a number of acequia rehabilitation projects were extended through 2015 — with “ditch day” they offer an example of the localness de Tocqueville celebrated. Ditch day is a gathering of volunteers, some area residents, some family and visitors who remove debris and shore up the sides of the ditch. 

Little League baseball is an activity one might think well off the radar of spending the state’s severance taxes. Think again. Improvements planned to Albuquerque’s Tower Park / West Gate Little League fields were “reauthorized” this year, meaning that whomever is doing the project failed to complete it in the originally planned time and now has until 2015.

The Petroglyph Little League had its project to design and build a concession stand reauthorized. The construction project will now be a “trailer to be used as a mobile concession,” the Legislative Council Service reports. From the happy perspective of knowing nothing about the Petroglyph operation, it seems the acequia ditch day model might apply: Gather people and get it done. Petroglyph must know how to work the system. The league had five new capital projects authorized for a total of $150,000. 

The baseball focus comes from liking baseball and from my kids playing Little League, yes, more than 15 years ago. Sometimes they played at schools, extending the use of existing facilities. What a thought.

Big things do get done. Santa Teresa will get another commercial lane at the port of entry and $3.2 million of water and wastewater system improvements, badly needed in the booming area. But $60,000 for an “area shade” at the Radium Springs recreation area, well…

Then there are things not done. The Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department wanted $5 million for “wildfire mitigation at urban forest interfaces” statewide. The authorization was $2.5 million. Homeowners and chainsaws may be Plan B. The state fair got $1 million of the $4.9 million requested for maintenance.

Our capital budgeting process is a mess. That’s generally agreed. Part of the long deferred rethinking of the system should consider who pays for and executes the capital projects. The state? Local government? Perhaps the people through voluntary associations?