If past bond election performance is indicative of future results, the City of Albuquerque should rest easy come election day on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Put up to a vote every two years, general obligation (G/O) bonds are part of this year’s consolidated local election.
School and college bonds for Albuquerque Public Schools and Central New Mexico Community College will be put to voters, and a measure to continue a property tax for APS building renovation and upkeep appears on the ballot. There is also a proposition that would drastically alter campaign finance, among other ballot items.
City Council seats for Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8 are also up for reelection.
The 11 G/O bond proposals on the ballot total $128.5 million. Most of the proposed bonds would go toward municipal infrastructure maintenance and improvements such as roads, parks, libraries, storm sewers, and water and energy conservation. Also decided on Nov. 5 are bonds to provide money to city museums, public transportation and affordable housing.
Bond approval in local elections is generally a routine affair. In the last round of G/O, voting in 2017 during the Richard Berry administration, all 11 bond questions were overwhelmingly approved by an average of 70.11%.
In a wide-ranging interview with radio station KZRR 94.1 FM on Oct. 23, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said a change in state law consolidated elections for a variety of city issues into a single ballot.
“We don’t have to bother with February and March (elections now) — we just vote at the same time every year,” Keller said. “To do that, you had to scrunch all this other stuff into one election, so this year, we’ve got the (Albuquerque Public Schools) bonds, we’ve got school board elections, City Council elections, city bonds... It’s a huge ballot, but most of it is about money.”
The state law in question, the Local Election Act (LEA), was passed by the New Mexico legislature in 2018 and amended during the most recent legislative session. In addition to repealing previous state code for municipal and school board elections, the LEA requires all statewide elections to follow “uniform election procedures.” It also established biennial elections for all municipalities to be held in November of odd-numbered years.
For voters in many parts of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, important City Council races have drawn much of the attention surrounding the local election. Most of the measures on the ballot typically do not have as much appeal to voters as a tightly contested race for a seat but are essential for continued funding of city services.
“There’s a lot in there that’s so not glamorous, but every time you see a road that’s repaved, it comes from G/O bonds,” Keller said. “The question is basically, are we going to let various governments, including City Hall, issue some bonds to fix up infrastructure? We do this every two years — of course, if you didn’t vote for them, maybe your taxes would go down, but then you would have no new parks, no roads repaired, no stop signs. It’s all about infrastructure.”
Voters are also being asked to approve an extension of a one-quarter of one percent gross receipts tax which, according to Keller, has been used to fund transportation infrastructure for the past 30 years.
Keller also conceded in the radio interview that taxes would go down slightly if the G/O bonds fail to be approved, but argued that the investment would be worth the services provided.
“Someone was trying to work this (tax savings) up, and it was like, you might save $50 a year,” Keller said. “(The transportation gross receipts tax) is now 30 years old, and you have to renew it every ten years. You could vote no, but we would have to cut a third of the city’s road and bus service.”
A G/O bond on the ballot that has stirred some controversy is a proposed centralized homeless shelter that the city is tabbed at $14 million. The money for the proposed shelter is included in a bond to support the general upkeep of other city-run facilities, such as community shelters and family centers.
As the Daily Lobo reported on Oct. 14, the issue surrounding the city’s shelter proposal stems from the concept of a single site for the facility. The mayor’s office contends that a centralized site would help consolidate resources in the city’s efforts to combat homelessness. However, critics are unified in advocating for multiple, smaller shelters scattered across the city.
Keller said the shelter is needed as the city continues to “lose ground” on the homelessness crisis.
“We see it all around: There’s more homeless people everywhere,” Keller said in the radio interview. “The city has never really stepped up and said, ‘Okay, we have to really own this challenge.’ We’ve just got to step up our game. It’s a national problem, but it’s still ours to fix.”
City Councilor Pat Davis, whose 6th District seat includes the University of New Mexico, Nob Hill and the International District recently told the Daily Lobo he expects the $14 million for the proposed shelter to be approved.
“If we’re on the wrong track and voters really don’t want us to do this, I think we ought to know that (with the election results),” Davis said. “I don’t think they do — I think they’re fine with this.”
Voter registration information, sample ballots and all 11 G/O bonds and their details can be viewed at the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website or at the office of the county clerk. The third floor of the Student Union Building is one of 69 voting locations across the city, and polls will be open on Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Andrew Gunn is a senior reporter and copy editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @agunnwrites
Colin Peña is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @penyacolin