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Voters approve constitutional amendments and bond questions

Early childhood amendment celebration
Shaun Griswold
/
Source NM
Even before the Associated Press projected the ballot initiative would pass, organizers were celebrating the victory.

Voters passed all three amendments to the state’s constitution to provide more money for early childhood education, allow the state to invest in essential services and spares judges from an election race in the first year of their appointment.

They also approved three bond issues for public libraries, educational institutions and senior centers also passed with the third for education not yet called by AP.

This election’s ballot asked a critical question to amend the state’s constitution with Amendment 1 and voters decided to pass the measure. Voters supported an additional 1.25% be withdrawn from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund, which is about $150 million to early childhood education and about $100 million for K-12 education.

Exactly how the money is to be spent is to be determined, but advocates have pointed to potential impacts like raising teacher salaries, universal child care, and funding at home visiting programs for families. With the passage of Amendment 1, activists hope to focus on those early years in a child’s life in order to improve our dismal rankings in areas like education and child well-being.

An amendment modifying the state’s anti-donation clause in order to allow the state to invest in essential services such as high-speed internet, water and energy infrastructure passed with 64.7% of voters supporting the proposal.

The Albuquerque Journal reports lawmakers sought the amendment to help households that lack access to basic services, especially in rural areas and Native American communities. The need for speedier internet became more apparent in the pandemic as students in some rural areas struggled to access online classes.

The clause has been amended six times since 1971, according to the Legislative Council Service. Those carveouts allowed public funds to be used for things like helping sick or impoverished people, local economic development, some scholarship programs, and building affordable housing.

Proponents say this latest amendment could help boost access to essential services, especially in rural areas. It could also help the state leverage more federal money for rural development, as other states have done.

But opponents worry about things like state money going to build a road or water line on private property that is then owned by the property owner.

State lawmakers must now pass enacting legislation to spend the money on specific projects.

Voters also changed when appointed judges must run in their first general election after being tapped, giving them a buffer year of sorts.

This means these judges now will serve at least a year before they run in the next partisan election.

Some of these appointments are done by the governor when there is a job opening in a non-election year. It used to be that appointed judges served until the next partisan election – even if that election was shortly after their appointment.

Critics called the amendment a “free pass” and chafed at the idea of appointed judges potentially serving years before running in an election. But supporters of the amendment said it gave voters time to evaluate judges and would increase diversity.

If appointed judges are elected, at the end of their term, there will be a retention election. That election doesn’t have a competitor and it asks if the public wants to keep the judge on the bench.

New Mexicans have approved more than $259 million in general obligation bonds for schools, senior centers and libraries across the state, according to election calls by the Associated Press.

General Obligation Bond 3 was the largest and allocates nearly $216 million to public and tribal colleges and universities, along with schools that serve specialized populations, like blind, deaf and military students.

The state’s flagship University of New Mexico will see the largest share of the funds, and plans to spend about half of its $89 million allotment on a collaborative art and technology center for the College of Fine Arts.

Meanwhile, General Obligation Bond 1 also passed and will go toward building, renovating and equipping senior centers, including with ADA-accessible vehicles.

Aging and Long-Term Services Department Sec. Katrina Hotrum-Lopez says the largest project under the bond, the Gallup Regional Senior Center, is an opportunity for her department to better meet seniors where they’re at.

“We really, really want that Gallup center be the hub of us figuring out how to help our seniors in the way that they’d like, and living in the community of their choice,” she said.

Voters also approved General Obligation Bond 2, the largest ever statewide library bond, which means public and school-based libraries can expect a boost of around $19 million.

Statewide property taxes will not be impacted by the passage of this year’s bonds, as the Department of Finance and Administration says the current rate is high enough to cover the new debt.

This story has been updated to reflect that all three bond questions passed.

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