Legislators warn of short funds

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Rep. Anna Crook, D-Clovis, talks about capital outlay during Friday’s Association of Commerce and Industry legislative breakfast.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

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.