ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — County commissioners will debate today whether to ask voters two questions on the ballot on Election Day: Should small amounts of marijuana be decriminalized? And should the county impose a new gross receipts tax to fund mental health services?
The results of the ballot wouldn’t be binding or change any policy. The questions would poll public opinion.
Democratic county commissioners and state lawmakers and other community leaders gathered outside the Bernalillo County Youth Services Center on Sunday in support of the advisory questions. With information about how their constituents feel about the issues, policymakers will be better guided, said Debbie O’Malley, the chairwoman of the Bernalillo County Commission.
“We’re in a crisis,” O’Malley said. “The lack of resources for effective services for those with behavioral and mental health problems affect the safety and welfare of all the children and families in our community.”
But Wayne Johnson, a Republican county commissioner, said the questions are a partisan attempt at drawing Democratic voters to the polls on election day, and that he wasn’t in favor of “monkeying around with the ballot.”
“If they want to run a poll, why don’t they run a poll?” Johnson said in a phone interview. He also said it’s unclear if the county would even be allowed to add the questions to the ballot.
O’Malley said a one-eighth of 1 percent gross receipts tax could generate about $16 million a year that would fund additional mental health services, such as new facility where law enforcement could take people in crisis.
“Some of us at Bernalillo County are prepared to lead the way if voters support these measures,” Maggie Hart Stebbins said.
Thomas Grover, a former Albuquerque police officer and lawyer, said there are few options for officers and deputies who encounter mentally ill people on the streets of Albuquerque.
“We either transport them to UNMH … or we book them into the county jail,” Grover said. “Both options … are ineffective to handle the scale of issues affecting our streets.”
Joan Curtiss, an Albuquerque woman whose son has schizophrenia, said New Mexico needs more subsidized housing and assisted living centers for people with mental illnesses.
“Don’t turn away from the suffering that comes with mental illness,” she said. “When you turn away because it’s hard to think about it, you leave our police, our jails and New Mexico’s homeless without any recourse but the violent endings we’ve been experiencing this past year.”