New Mexico voters are being asked to approve tens of millions of dollars worth of construction projects at higher education institutions across the state, including a new $27 million physics and astronomy building on the University of New Mexico campus.
While higher education is the biggest ticket on the ballot, voters will also decide state bond issues for a variety of other infrastructure improvements – new buildings, senior center improvements, more books for libraries, state information technology and even a crime lab.
Bond C, at about $142.3 million is the largest, funding construction projects at universities, colleges and special schools across the state. UNM officials have estimated the higher education projects would require about 1,300 new construction jobs throughout the state if approved.
“Bond C is going to provide millions of dollars to higher education institutions across the state for a variety of improvements and renovations that might not be possible otherwise, all without raising taxes,” said University of New Mexico President Bob Frank.
The voters’ guide published by the League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico says bond approval would result in a property tax increase of $18.68 annually on a home with an assessed value $200,000, but those taxes would replace maturing bonds, so effectively voters would not see an increase in their property taxes as a result of the new bonds passing.
“The bottom-line: There will be no tax increases if these measures pass. Zero,” said Julia Ruetten, a spokeswoman with the Department of Finance and Administration.
Property taxes would go down slightly if the measure is rejected, but state officials with the Department of Finance and Administration did not return calls asking about the amount.
UNM stands to gain the most from Bond C, a $34.5 million share, the majority of which would fund a new physics and astronomy building on campus.
Paul Gessing, president of Rio Grande Foundation, a conservative research institute, argued that voting against the bonds would send a message to higher education institutions to be more financially prudent.
“We’re spending at Cadillac levels on a Hyundai budget,” Gessing said.
And if people vote down the bonds, he added, their taxes follow, too.
In arguing in favor of Bond C, UNM officials say the current physics building, which was built in the 1950s, is in a state of decay and inadequate for the department’s current needs.
To support that argument, UNM created a short video showing the current state of the physics building. In it, one can see staff have covered holes in the ceiling with plastic and tape. Someone created a makeshift cubicle wall using cardboard.
Similar projects also would take place in Las Cruces at New Mexico State University, which would get $27.5 million in projects, and in Socorro at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, $5.5 million in projects.
Community colleges around the state, including Central New Mexico Community College, also would receive $32.3 million in projects.
If approved, Bond B would allow the state to bond up to $10.1 million meant to improve the state’s libraries, both public and those in K-12 and higher education institutions.
Bond B would also provide the state Public Education Department with $3 million and the New Mexico Higher Education Department with $3.25 million to increase print and electronic resources at school libraries across the state.
The same bond would provide the Cultural Affairs Department with $3 million to support libraries across the state with improvements to their collections. And $750,000 would go to that department for improvements at tribal libraries.
Bond D would allow the state to issue up to $18.1 million in bonds to benefit public safety efforts in the state. The Department of Public Safety would get $7 million to design and construct a new state police crime laboratory.
The state Department of Information Technology would get $5 million to stabilize and modernize public safety communications around the state.
Finally, the Department of Military Affairs could get $4 million to plan and build a National Guard readiness center in Doña Anna County.
Another $2 million to that department would go to general improvements to facilities statewide.
Bond A would allow the state to authorize up to roughly $15.4 million in bonds to improve senior citizens facilities.
A bond is a debt incurred by the government to finance projects. The state has to pay back that money plus interest.
The state estimates these bonds will not add to the total amount of debt, which includes existing bonds, it pays.