The state Legislature will convene Jan. 19 for a 30-day session about who gets what money for their communities, among other business.
That’s where the lobbyists get to work.
As reported last week by our colleagues at New Mexico In Depth, cities, counties, colleges and other public entities spent $4.8 million for the past two years on lobbyists at the state level. Add another $2.35 million for lobbying at the federal level during the time period.
Of course, this doesn’t account for the money those in the private sector, such as corporations, spend.
Among the public groups, the biggest spenders were institutions of higher education. Next came cities and towns — with 18 spending $1.6 million over the past two years. Thirteen of the state’s 33 counties hired lobbyists, for a total of $1.3 million.
Guess what? Our local governments went along.
The town of Taos, village of Questa, town of Red River, Taos County Sheriff’s Department and Taos County spent thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars to have a pro go to bat for them.
We were taken aback to discover Questa, where village staff has been asked to squeeze every penny, spent $40,000 this year on a lobbyist. Taos forked over $35,000 in 2014 and $47,000 in 2015.
That’s a lot of money.
Was contracting with a hired hand worth it? We’d like to know.
Each year, local officials head to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe during the session to make their pitch for badly needed capital expenditures, such as improvements to roads, buildings and vehicles.
The New Mexico Municipal League and New Mexico Association of Counties also work on behalf of our communities.
Certainly, we expect our senator and representative to have our back.
It’s a tough sell to justify spending money on lobbyists when we see such need locally. Our communities are struggling to pay employees and keep up with potholes. In Questa, would that $40,000 have been better spent on hiring a police officer or covering part of the cost for a new public works vehicle?
We’d also like to see better reporting by lobbyists on their expenses. Rep. Jeff Steinborn, of Las Cruces, tried to bring about such reform, but the bill that was passed eventually was a weakened version.
Other states already require full disclosure. Why not New Mexico?
If our local governments feel hiring lobbyists is indeed valuable, we believe it behooves them to give a full accounting of how the money was spent and what we got for it.
After all, it is our money.