Legislative Finance Committee discuss stimulus money

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

The Legislative Finance Committee summed up a long second day of meetings in Clovis with a short update on stimulus money.

A committee staff update at the conclusion of Thursday’s session at the Clovis Civic Center updated members on fiscal stabilization funds of about $318.3 million.

Of that total, $260.4 million goes to the state’s general fund and $57.9 million is in a discretionary fund for Gov. Bill Richardson.

Members of the LFC said Richardson is still deciding how that money will be used.

Some of the legislators had concerns, particularly Rep. Donald E. Bratton, R-Hobbs.

Bratton said in the years the stimulus dollars are handed out, it’s important to have oversight because many of the programs have stringent requirements and an entity that doesn’t follow them could be forced to pay the money back.

And, Bratton said, it’s no mystery they’ll have to come to the Legislature for that money.

Bratton’s other concern was that stimulus money could inadvertently grow government.

“If we’re not careful,” Bratton said, “we are going to grow the need for programs that will initially come from this funding.”

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, echoed Bratton’s sentiments after the meeting.

“Nobody likes to turn away money,” Crook said, “but when you can’t afford to sustain, where do you go from there? We won’t want to ask the taxpayers for more money to sustain.”

David Abbey, director of the LFC, said for a few organizations, like training for labor and childcare, stimulus money will be doled out through the entities’ budget adjustment processes.

Normally, legislatures would be required to dole the money out. But Abbey said there were too few details on the money during the state’s regular session.

“If you wait for the 2010 session to apportion these stimulus funds,” Abbey said, “you kind of defeat the purpose of the funds.”

In other business at Thursday’s meeting, committee members:

• toured the Southwest Cheese plant, Rajen Dairy and Curtis and Curtis Seeds. Crook said many LFC members had never been to the east side of New Mexico, and having a chance to see area agriculture business will give those legislators a better base when Crook and others mention those businesses in the 2010 session.

• received updates on third-quarter accountability reports from state agencies.

• heard about the Public Education Department’s three-tiered licensure system.