Business group blasts House budget on economic development funds

by Marie C. Baca, Albuquerque Journal
Feb. 2, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The House’s version of the state budget includes $14 million for two economic development programs, which one business leader said was “shocking” because it is so far below what advocates are recommending.

Under the bill, the Job Training Incentive Program, which reimburses businesses for costs associated with employee training, was allotted $9 million: $5 million for the fiscal year that begins in July in addition to a recurring $4 million. The Local Economic Development Act, a fund used to incentivize businesses to relocate or expand in New Mexico, was allotted $5 million for the fiscal year to add to the remaining $40 million in the fund.

The sums are less than the $12 million in recurring funds for JTIP and the $10 million for LEDA pushed by business advocates, according to Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

“There were several shocking elements of (the bill), and this was one of them,” said Cole. “We are now working hard with the Senate to advocate for both programs.”

Secretary Matt Geisel of the state’s Economic Development Department said funding the programs is a priority for his agency and Gov. Susana Martinez. “These are things that should have bipartisan support,” said Geisel. “The fact that full funding was in the executive budget shows how important the programs are to this administration.”

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said she supports the economic development programs but cited a large unspent dollar amount in the LEDA program. “It’s not that we don’t support economic development, but if you have a pretty big cash balance it’s hard to get more (money),” Lundstrom told the Journal.

She also said she’s seen little money from the programs flow into small businesses, particularly in Gallup, where she works as an economic developer.

JTIP and LEDA, described by economic developers as indispensable for attracting businesses, have been criticized by opponents for diverting money that could be spent on more vulnerable populations. New Mexico Voices for Children spokeswoman Sharon Kayne said that while her organization has historically supported JTIP, it also believes “some of the best economic development comes from investing in infrastructure and human capital.”

“We need a well-educated and skilled workforce,” said Kayne. “That’s how to get jobs here.”

The House voted 65-3 earlier this week to pass the $6.3 billion spending bill, which has moved to the Senate for further discussion. The budget would increase spending by about $249 million, or 4.1 percent, over current levels, reflecting an oil-driven increase in state revenue.

There are two weeks left in the 30-day legislative session.

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