Every two years, New Mexicans vote on general-obligation debt backed by revenue from the Land of Enchantment’s statewide property tax. The Secretary of State’s GENERAL ELECTION VOTER GUIDE describes 2018’s proposed bonds thusly:
* Bond Issue A: “an amount not to exceed $10,770,000 to make capital expenditures for senior citizen facility improvements, construction, and equipment acquisition projects”
* Bond Issue B: “an amount not to exceed $12,876,000 to make capital expenditures for academic, public school, tribal, and public library resource acquisitions”
* Bond Issue C: “an amount not to exceed $6,137,000 million to make capital expenditures for the purchase of school buses”
* Bond Issue D: “an amount not to exceed $136,230,000 million to make capital expenditures for certain higher education, special schools and tribal schools”
Voters reflexively approve additions to New Mexico’s general-obligation debt, but this election, they’ve never had a better reason to shoot them down. In the last two years, Moody’s Investors Service has twice downgraded the state’s rating, primarily due to “extremely large pension liabilities,” “spending challenges associated with a large Medicaid caseload,” revenue that is “concentrated and volatile,” an “economy that has lagged the nation’s,” and weak “financial reporting practices.”
But if a Wall Street warning is not enough to foster voter skepticism, consider the way the state’s system of higher education is using taxpayer dollar to push for its $136.2 million.
As it has done in the past, UNM claims that bonds are “a proven and accepted method of funding bricks [sic] and mortar projects throughout the state,” incurred to give “universities and specialty schools the ability to ensure students have the tools and resources they need to be successful.” (Even better — there “are no tax increases associated with these bonds.”) Here’s the school’s laudatory video promoting the benefits of bonding.
Bill Knief, “a part-time special projects coordinator for UNM-Taos,” has “watched over the years as well over $20 million of bond money has made possible what is, in my opinion, one of the finest college campuses in the state.” (But the flack “can’t presume to tell anyone how to vote; that’s a deeply personal decision best left to the individual.”)
In the promotion department, though, UNM can’t compete with NMSU. It has produced four videos to secure its share of the bonding loot, which would cover expenses for “a food science security and safety facility, animal nutrition and feed manufacturing facility and biomedical research center.” (See above.) According to Rolando A. Flores, dean of the New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences: “The 2018 GO bond projects to be voted by New Mexicans in November of this year are vital for the future of New Mexico’s agriculture and food industries. The goal is to have a big push for agriculture in two major areas: food safety and security and generation of value-added from agricultural products by developing the food of the future. These two components, properly supported, can convert Southern New Mexico into a hub for the nation’s food safety and security and can bolster economic and community development in New Mexico.” (Not content with press releases, Flores took to the pages of the Albuquerque Journal, imploring voters to “be bold on Nov. 6 and shape the future of our state in a positive way.”)
Western New Mexico University President Dr. Joseph Shepard told the Silver City Sun-News that GO Bond D “is the primary source of funding that [WNMU] has to re-invest in our historic buildings and modernize facilities. By upgrading technology and improving safety, we give our students experiences that will help them contribute positively toward a better New Mexico future. Additionally, the bonds provide direct economic development for our area as various companies are hired to complete WNMU projects.”
Earlier this month, Becky Rowley, president of Clovis Community College, and Jeff Elwell, “chancellor of the three-campus Eastern New Mexico University System,” asked voter to “please send a message … that Curry and Roosevelt counties are firmly committed to supporting higher education.” Cecilia Y.M. Cervantes, interim president of Santa Fe Community College, did the same, telling readers of the Santa Fe New Mexican to “[s]upport your community, our students and a better future for all New Mexicans by voting yes on GO Bond D.”
Sadly, nothing in state law bars “public” universities and colleges from lobbying for themselves — on your dime. And it should come as no surprise that the proponents of “good government” in the Land of Enchantment are silent on the issue. (They’re equally AWOL on the issue of local governments hiring lobbyists to press Santa Fe for more state funding.)
No, it’s not illegal. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. If state lawmakers will take no action to halt the tawdry practice of postsecondary educrats using taxpayer resources to further enrich themselves, perhaps reporters and editorial-page editors will decide to stop allowing news articles and opinion pages to serve as passive conduits for government higher education’s relentless campaign for more, more, more.