Considering amendments and bonds is direct vote on issues

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By Jay Miller

This year, New Mexicans have the opportunity to vote on five constitutional amendments and four bond issues in addition to all the state and local candidates on the ballot.
You may feel it a bother to read the small print on the reverse side of the ballot but this is the one part of state government in which citizens actually get a direct vote on issues facing the state.
The rest of the ballot is just voting on the people who will make all the decisions for us.
Several states have a referendum process in which groups can collect petition signatures to get items on the ballot.
Arizona and California are two of those states. Their ballots involve multiple pages of questions accompanied by instruction booklets.
•Amendment #1 allows the state to create a scholarship program for veterans of conflicts since 1990. Such a program currently exists for Vietnam Veterans. Why were veterans of conflicts between 1975 and 1990 left out? It’s ripe for litigation.
•Amendment #2 allows elected county officials 12 years in office instead of eight. It’s an argument of whether experience or new ideas are better. Incumbents can be voted out but history tells us they have an advantage.
•Amendment #3 is another attempt at updating archaic language in the 1912 Constitution. It should be done but unfortunately, an amendment including everything that should be updated is far too broad to avoid litigation. It is a topic for a constitutional convention.
•Amendment #4 provides a tax exemption for property of veterans’ organizations. If passed, it likely will encourage other social organizations to seek similar benefits.
•Amendment #5 would allow the appointment of former legislators to high public offices during the term in which they were elected. The practice has been prohibited by our Constitution since statehood as a protection against corruption. Recent experience indicates the possibility still exists. This is not a good time to be considering such a change.
Every two years, at general elections, voters are asked to approve statewide bond issues for building construction and purchase of materials and equipment.
The Legislature has three sources of funds for capital projects.
One is state budget surpluses. There was no such thing this year.
Another is severance taxes on the minerals “severed” from our state lands and the third is from statewide bond issues approved by voters and paid for through property taxes.
Understandably, the most popular projects are the ones put to a vote.
The ones financed by severance tax bonds are the “pork” projects we hear about every legislative session.
Typically, the projects the public gets to vote on are senior citizen centers, libraries, public schools and higher education.
These bonds usually always pass because they have strong constituencies behind them. Bonds for other purposes usually fail.
Some counties seldom ever approve any bond issues, in good times or bad.
Other counties, usually with higher education institutions, nearly always pass all the bonds.
•Bond Issue A is for senior citizen facility improvements, construction and equipment acquisition projects. These bonds have never failed and probably won’t. Seniors vote. Polling places often are at senior centers. Seniors rule. Annual additional cost: 50 cents per $100,000 valuation.
•Bond Issue B is for higher education, public school, tribal and public library acquisitions. The state’s libraries have an exceptional organization that promotes these bonds. They have passed for the 20 years the group has been keeping records. Annual additional cost: 45 cents per $100,000 valuation.
•Bond Issue C is for pre-kindergarten classrooms and for public school instructional materials. Annual additional cost: 33 cents per $100,000 valuation.
•Bond Issue D is for capital expenditures at higher education institutions and special schools. Annual additional cost: $9.98 per $100,000 valuation.

Jay Miller insidethecapitol@hotmail.com