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$223 Million in Bonds on Ballot; $140 Million Requested For Higher Education Projects

By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer
       Voters across the state will decide the fate of $223 million in proposed general obligation bonds to help pay for major projects at colleges and universities, health facilities, senior centers and to buy books for libraries.
    Four bonds will be on the Nov. 4 ballot, and each will require majority support to pass.
    Higher education institutions have the most at stake, with roughly $140 million on the line.
    "This will allow important new projects to go forward, training our students for important fields such as health care, film and education," Higher Education Secretary Reed Dasenbrock said. "In addition, this invests money in crucially needed infrastructure projects, which will save energy costs for our institutions. Virtually every institution in the state benefits from this GO bond, and local economies will strongly benefit from these new construction projects."
    The bonds would be paid through statewide property taxes. If all the measures pass, the owner of a $100,000 house would pay an extra $18.06 during the 2009 property tax year, according to an analysis by the state. The annual cost would decrease slightly each year thereafter.
    In Albuquerque, where the median price of a home is $195,000, taxes would increase by about $35 in 2009 if all four bonds are approved.
    The ballot questions are:
    -- Bond A — $14.7 million for construction projects and to purchase equipment for senior citizen centers across New Mexico. The biggest item is $1.6 million for renovation of the Barelas Senior Center in Albuquerque. Money from this bond would go to at least 29 of the state's 33 counties.
    -- Bond B — $11 million in books and other materials for state and tribal libraries and for libraries at public schools and colleges and universities.
    -- Bond C — $57.8 million for projects at health-care facilities, including $17 million for the UNM Cancer Research & Treatment Center and $10 million for phase one of the Meadows hospital in San Miguel County.
    -- Bond D — Nearly $140 million for higher education projects and special schools like the New Mexico Military Institute and the New Mexico School for the Deaf. The big-ticket item is $19 million for the New Mexico State University arts complex in Las Cruces.
    Central New Mexico Community College would get $12 million for a third instructional building at its West Side campus.
    "The success of this bond election is very important to us because we expect to continue growing in the years to come," CNM President Katharine Winograd said. "For us to continue to meet the needs of our citizens and our community, we certainly need the funds that will be allocated to CNM if this bond passes."
    The University of New Mexico would receive $17 million, not including money for its branch campuses. Included are $5 million for a biology building renovation and expansion, $6 million for a new College of Education building, $4 million for a film and digital media building at Mesa Del Sol and $2 million for a Student Success Center, which will house a new veterans center, athletics advisement and the bulk of UNM's financial aid, admissions and registration operations.
    The UNM branch campuses would get another $4.2 million.
    UNM President David Schmidly said he's concerned about what voters might do given the economy.
    "Any time there is a serious downturn and uncertainty about finances, people are very cautious about choosing to vote for any new expenses," he said. "I guess the thing that I would encourage the voters is to think about this as an investment as much as they think about it as cost."
    Since 1988, voters have approved nearly 64 percent of the 47 statewide bonds they've been asked to support, according to an analysis by Albuquerque's Research & Polling Inc. During that period, all 10 bonds proposed for senior centers have been approved, while nine of 10 bond issues for public education have been approved.