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New Mexico Spends $20 Million in Federal Stimulus Money to Fund Prison Jobs

Like most other states, New Mexico received a large amount of federal money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Of the billions of dollars in stimulus funds, $260 million was earmarked as a “state fiscal stabilization fund” intended to plug holes in New Mexico’s budget. Other stimulus money was allocated for different uses, but close to $58 million was available for Governor Bill Richardson to spend at his discretion.

“The funds can be used for anything the governor determined to be a government service,” said Tony Anaya, head of the state office that tracks the use of federal stimulus dollars. “There are specific prohibitions. The money can’t be used for projects such as casinos, gaming, swimming pools.”

All of the stimulus funds must be spent by September 30, 2011. The money can be used to construct new buildings or renovate existing structures; it can also be used to create new jobs or fund existing jobs, but “can’t be used to fund a new position that would be ongoing unless there is going to be a new source of funding when the stimulus money ends,” according to Anaya.

Of the first $24.1 million spent from the governor’s discretionary fund, about $20 million went to “shore up the Department of Corrections. That took more than one-third of the government services funds.” The money was used to sustain 90 administrative DOC positions and 334 guard positions. The other $4.18 million was used to fund less than 20 additional state government jobs.

Another $30 million in discretionary funds has been slated for land purchases, child care services and human services, among other projects.

Perhaps Richardson should have spent the stimulus money that went to the DOC on reducing the state’s prison population through rehabilitative programs and alternative sentencing initiatives, which would create lasting savings, instead of spending it on job positions that will not receive future federal funds after the stimulus money is gone.

Source: Santa Fe New Mexican

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