City debates legislative strategy

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By David Giuliani

City Council members debated last week on how they should approach the Legislature with their funding requests, with some saying the city has done enough and others sharply disagreeing.

The discussion began at the council’s regular meeting when Councilman Tony Marquez asked why the city didn’t invite state lawmakers from the area to attend the council meeting, so city officials could express their wishes for state funding. The invitation was suggested at a meeting earlier this month.

City Manager John Avila said he understood it as a suggestion from one council member and that it could be a good idea to invite the lawmakers, “but it may have the opposite effect.”

City Attorney Matt Sandoval, who also acts as the city’s lobbyist, said the city has already told the legislators about the priorities for funding and that it would be difficult to get the lawmakers to a meeting before the legislative session starts in a month.

The city’s 2008 legislative funding wish list consists of 18 items, amounting to $25 million. The top five are a water diversion dam, water treatment improvements, water transmission upgrades, police station improvements, and streets and sidewalks.

Councilman Macario Gonzalez said the council needed to further discuss city priorities, referring to them as a “so-called list.”

“Sometimes I wonder whether we’re moving forward or stagnating,” he said. “I thought we’d have a discussion on the priorities... I have no qualms with the list.”

Councilman Morris Madrid said he thought the list needed further prioritizing and paring down. He called for a special meeting on the subject. “I’m not sure if we should invite the legislators,” he said.

Councilman Louie Trujillo, however, argued that a meeting would be useless.

“Water transmission, acquisition and storage — that’s the only thing I’m interested in funding,” he said. “It’s counterproductive to fidget with the priority list at this point.”

As he has before, Trujillo said it’s important the city work with other entities such as the two local school districts, Luna Community College, Highlands University and the county, so the community as a whole could list its priorities. As it stands, he said, local efforts at the Legislature are unfocused. Local legislators end up getting money for scattered causes, he said.

“Put all the eggs in one basket,” Trujillo said.

Mayor Henry Sanchez defended the city’s approach, noting that the local lawmakers, Reps. Richard Vigil and Thomas Garcia and Sens. Phil Griego and Pete Campos, have many people “hounding them.”

“Everyone thinks their project is most important. We could put all the money in one project, but that’s not realistic,” the mayor said.

“It can happen,” Gonzalez replied.

It was unclear at the end of the council’s discussion about what step it would take next.