Voters will decide whether to fund campus improvements at NM colleges and universities
New Mexico voters will decide in November whether to approve more than $259 million in general obligation bonds. Most would go toward funding improvements at higher education institutions without increasing taxes.
There are three bond questions on the ballot. The largest by far allocates nearly $216 million to public and tribal colleges and universities, along with schools that serve specialized populations.
While substantial, the Legislative Finance Committee says the education bond is only about half the amount schools requested from the legislature for capital projects this year.
Most of the funds would go to the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and their branch campuses. But 20 other community colleges and public universities would get a share too. Also on the list are Navajo Technical University and a branch of Diné College, both tribal land-grant schools, and three specialty schools — the New Mexico Military Institute, the New Mexico School for the Deaf, and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
The projects outlined in the bill passed by the legislature in January and signed by the governor to get it on the ballot include planning, constructing and equipping new facilities and renovating or demolishing existing ones. Some of the schools plan to upgrade HVAC, IT, or fire suppression systems.
UNM will spend about half of its $89 million allotment on a collaborative art and technology center for the College of Fine Arts.
Dean of the college Harris Smith said the average age of the 13 buildings the department now uses is about 60 years old, and most were retrofitted for the program’s needs. He said the bond will fund a brand new campus facility.
“So we make sure that our faculty, our staff and our students are all being exposed to the latest technology,” he said. “Giving them the most current training to make them competitive.”
Smith said if the bond doesn’t pass, the project won’t happen, which could not only hurt their retention and recruitment, but ripple beyond the college itself, as the arts and culture sector adds nearly $2.6 billion to the New Mexico economy.
“Training our students to be part of that and to contribute can be quite impactful,” he said.
Meanwhile, Central New Mexico Community College, New Mexico Junior College and Navajo Technical University all plan to spend their share of the bond on new trades buildings.
General obligation bonds result in public debt paid for by property taxes. Approval of any of this year’s three bond questions, however, will not result in a statewide tax increase, as the state’s Department of Finance and Administration says the current rate is high enough to cover the new debt as older debt expires.
The Your New Mexico Government project is a collaboration between KUNM and New Mexico PBS with support from the Thornburg Foundation.