Head into the voting booth prepared about bonds

We’ve got info about what you’ll see on your ballot that isn’t a politician

By: - October 21, 2021 6:00 am
Albuquerque city bus

With the bonds proposed for Albuquerque, public transportation would receive $1.1 million, a pretty small portion of the nearly $492 million being proposed overall. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)

Do you like schools? Libraries? Safe roads and bridges, maybe?

What about high-speed internet? Do you like having easy access to bosque lands?

Do you prefer your roads with or without traffic signals? Your fire and police departments with or without vehicles?

At some level, the public need for all of these things is debatable, but if they are needed, they must be funded somehow.

Common Cause New Mexico is a watchdog organization that advocates for voter education, engagement and campaign finance transparency. Executive Director Heather Ferguson said taking the time to educate yourself about bond issues and fill out the entire ballot instead of just the political races helps the entire community thrive.

You can register to vote at your county clerk’s office on the same day you cast your ballot in New Mexico during the early voting period, which ends Saturday, Oct. 30. On Election Day proper though — that’s Tuesday, Nov. 2 — you must already be registered to vote before you head to the polls. 

“Those are things that are going to have a direct impact on your community,” Ferguson said. “Those are the things that are rebuilding the ceilings in your high school so the roofing tiles aren’t getting soaked from rainwater and falling down on your kids in yoga class.”

Andrea Serrano, executive director of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, said road upkeep and new buildings like libraries come from bonds.

“It matters who we elect, but it also matters how we spend money,” Serrano said. “Bonds on the ballot, really what it’s doing is getting the public’s input on how to spend our tax dollars.” 

Local and state governments in New Mexico are prohibited by law from spending more money each year than they raise through taxes or other means.

But they are allowed to ask the public to borrow money by issuing what are called bonds to pay for specific projects with large price tags that would normally be impossible to pay for using some part of their annual operating budget. The state or municipality borrows the money and promises to pay using the money collected from property taxes — or from some other source.

These bonds, called general obligation bonds or GO bonds, are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the local government in question, meaning any revenue can be used to pay them back. 

Some bonds will definitely be paid for with property taxes. Those are called Property Tax Mill Levies.

Property taxes are actually low in New Mexico compared with most other states.

Anytime you see a road being worked on, and the sign that says ‘your tax dollars at work,’ that money is typically coming from a bond.

– Andrea Serrano, OLÉ executive director

There’s also what’s called a Revenue Bond. That’s what the $50 million stadium funding is on your ballots in Albuquerque. Revenue Bonds are paid for by sales taxes, or what we in N.M. call Gross Receipts Taxes. So if that stadium bond is approved, when you buy something, part of what you pay at a register might be going toward the stadium.

Some of the more controversial bond issues are important for community members to research on their own before they go to vote, Ferguson said, because ballot initiatives do not have a face that goes along with them.

“You don’t have a candidate to assess,” she said. “You are assessing an actual issue,” she said. “So you’ve got to look at those advertisements, those mailers, those billboards that say ‘Paid For By’ and then go look at who are they paid for by, and then make your determination about whether or not you feel that it is something that would be money well spent on the community.”

Serrano added it is really important to research the bond questions before going in to vote so you don’t feel pressured to hurry up and get it done while you’re at the polls.

On Election Day, Nov. 2, there will be 17 bond and tax issues on ballots throughout the state. Your ballot might only have one or two depending on where you live, or it might have none.

See your sample ballot, including what bond issues are being proposed in your area, here.

The local chapters of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters here in New Mexico collected the bond issues, including the specific line items that each of them would fund if approved. It’s all in the league’s voter guides for 2021.

Los Alamos

The Los Alamos Public School District Mill Levy Question would go to school buildings, grounds, vehicles for taking students to activities, building maintenance and education technology. Cost: About $3.25 for every $1,000 of taxable property

In this list, if you see a total, that’s a GO bond — it would be paid back by any kind of revenue. If you see a specific tax amount, that one’s coming from property owners for sure.

Santa Fe

The Santa Fe Public Schools General Obligation Bond would total $100 million to improve school buildings and grounds, buy computers for students and provide matching funds for capital projects.

A separate bond, the Santa Fe Public School Buildings Tax, would also pay for school buildings and grounds, building maintenance and education technology like fiber-optic cable for internet. Cost: $1.50 for every $1,000 of taxable property

Moriarty

The Moriarty-Edgewood Schools General Obligation Bond would total $11 million for school buildings, school grounds, computers for students and matching funds for other capital projects for the school district.

The Moriarty-Edgewood Schools Capital Improvements Tax would go toward pre-Kindergarten classrooms at the Estancia Valley Classical Academy. Cost: $2 for every $1,000 of taxable property

Pojoaque Valley

The Pojoaque Valley Public Schools Bond would total $5.5 million for school buildings, grounds and other capital projects.

Las Cruces

The Las Cruces General Obligation Bond Question would total $50 million for school buildings and grounds, computers for students and matching funds for capital projects.

The Las Cruces Public School Capital Improvement Tax Question would pay for pre-Kindergarten classrooms at New America School-Las Cruces and Raices de! Sabor. Cost: $2 for every $1,000 of taxable property.

Traffic drives on I-40 West past Downtown Albuquerque after a series of rain storms in late August, 2021. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)

Albuquerque

There are 14 separate bond questions being proposed by the city of Albuquerque and Albuquerque Public Schools, totaling nearly $492 million.

APS would receive $302 million for building repairs and maintenance, instruction materials, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and many other purposes.

There is more than $27.2 million for parks and recreation facilities including swimming pools, tennis courts, sports fields, open space, medians, bikeways, bosque lands and trails. 

The city is asking voters to borrow $50 million to help pay for a new soccer stadium, separate from the parks and recreation request. If passed, that bond would cost about $3.2 million in Gross Receipts Tax revenue each year for 20 years.

Improvements to city-owned community centers meant to serve families, youth, seniors and homeless people would receive $28.4 million if approved.

Police and firefighters would receive nearly $24.8 million to acquire land, buildings, property, vehicles, fire engines and other facilities.

Street reconstruction, ADA-compliant sidewalks, paving, traffic signals, bridge repairs, and trails and bike paths would receive $21.8 million.

Energy and water conservation, public facilities like the rehabilitation of the animal shelter and air-quality monitoring equipment would get nearly $16 million.

Storm sewer system improvements would get $4.6 million for stormwater pollution compliance and other work to ease flooding.

There is also more than $4.5 million for redevelopment at the Railyards and other Metropolitan Redevelopment Area improvements.

Libraries would receive nearly $4.2 million. Museum and cultural facilities would receive nearly $4 million. Affordable housing projects would receive about $3.3 million. Public transportation would get about $1.1 million.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on Friday, Oct. 22, at 11:30 a.m. to accurately reflect APS bond amounts.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.

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