Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Constitutional Amendments and Bonds

SANTA FE Constitutional amendments and bond issue questions at the end of the ballot often take voters by surprise since they don’t get much discussion. Here are Inside the Capitol’s slants on those ballot items.
The first thing you’ll notice when viewing the constitutional amendments is that the first two are missing. I actually went looking for them until I remembered that we voted on those in a special election over a year ago.
Those were Gov. Bill Richardson’s top priorities his first year in office. One of the amendments abolished the elected state Board of Education and replaced it with an advisory board under the governor. It passed fairly easily.
The second amendment sent some additional permanent fund money into public schools. Richardson campaigned throughout the summer of 2003 for that amendment, exhausting a large amount of his political capital in the process of securing a narrow victory.
Amendment 3 is on this year’s ballot. It allows for local runoff elections when no candidate receives a majority. Some of the state’s largest municipalities held runoffs until the state Supreme Court invalidated them because the state constitution does not allow them.
Since many candidates often enter local non-partisan races, the winner sometimes doesn’t receive a majority of the votes, making it difficult to govern when most voters did not support the winning candidate.
The proposed process involves a second election, which can be costly to the municipality and the candidates. Members of minority groups or a minority party sometimes can win in a big field but stand little chance in a runoff.
The amendment requires further legislative authorization and allows local governments to decide whether they want to opt for runoffs.
Amendment 4 extends the veterans’ property tax exemption to all members of the armed services who are honorably discharged. Presently, service has to be during a period of armed conflict, but since members of the military have no control over whether their will be an armed conflict during their service, it was thought fairer to extend the benefit to everyone.
Amendment 5 would change the name of the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped to the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As you might guess, this has to do with political correctness, evolving word meanings and states of mind.
In 1950, our constitution was amended to change the New Mexico School for the Blind to its present name. Now we’re going back to “blind” because it describes a condition, as does “impaired.” It now is hoped that people with these conditions won’t consider them a handicap, thereby improving their well-being.
How long these words will continue to be considered sensitive to visual conditions, there is no telling. That we have to clutter our constitution and our ballots with such considerations is a shame. The Legislature should handle the responsibility.
The bond issues appearing on statewide ballots always are the same. Every year, the Legislature has three pots of money to spend on construction, equipment purchases and special programs. One is the surplus from the ongoing operation of government, usually caused by more revenue coming in than had been projected. Another pot is severance taxes collected on removal of our state’s mineral resources.
The third pot is statewide property tax bonds. Since those require voter approval, the most popular of all projects are required to beg for money from that pot, while lawmakers fund their pet projects out of the other two.
The projects that must go begging are senior citizen centers, higher education and public schools. Usually a fourth bond will be added for something that might be sufficiently popular to pass. This year, it is library books. In recent years, it has been the State Fair, armories, museums and historic buildings.
Despite valiant efforts by supporters, such items often lose. The winners usually are bonds having money for every part of the state.


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