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More than $200 million is at stake when New Mexico voters consider Bond Question 3, a general obligation bond for higher education that would help pay for a children’s psychiatric center and dozens of other projects at colleges and universities throughout the state.
The bonds, which go before voters every two years, are the main source of capital improvement money for public colleges, universities and other specialty schools in the state.
If approved, there would be about $216 million distributed statewide, including $89.2 million for the University of New Mexico and its branch campuses.
In Bernalillo County, Central New Mexico Community College would get $15 million for a trades and applied technology facility; the University of New Mexico would receive $45 million to build a Center for Collaborative Arts and Technology; and the UNM Health Sciences Center would collect $36 million for a Children’s Psychiatric Center.
The latter project would address several statewide shortcomings when it comes to providing care to children with psychiatric health issues, said Dr. Mauricio Tohen, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the UNM School of Medicine.
He said the HSC has about 35 beds for such child patients, which are spread across a series of cottages on the north campus, and an adolescent inpatient unit. Plans are for the new center to have 52 beds, as well as more cutting-edge technology to better care for more acute patients, Tohen said.
He said staffing and other infrastructure issues at the existing center mean that the HSC sometimes couldn’t staff existing beds, or had to send patients to the regular children’s hospital.
“Those beds could be occupied by children who have medical-care needs. So, they are displaced,” Tohen said. “So, it’s a long domino effect, with number one, it leads to poor care. And, number two, it also leads to more expensive care.”
Rodney McNease, executive director of governmental affairs for UNM hospitals, said that, if the measure is approved, the bonds would come close to fully funding the new center. Planning would start early next year and the facility could be open by 2025, he said.
He said the college is growing rapidly, which he credited to the movie industry in the state, as well as major investments in recent years by Netflix and NBCUniversal.
“So, we’re growing,” he said. “The areas that specifically are impacted with the film industry are seeing growth.”
The money from the bond would cover much of the first phase of the project, Smith said.
Voter approval would mark the sixth consecutive statewide election that voters signed off on tens of millions of dollars for projects at public colleges and universities.
Steven Gamble, a co-chair of a GO Bonds for Education Committee, which promotes the bond question, said New Mexicans have long supported the higher education institutions in the state. He said the proposal has failed only twice, most recently in 2010.
If voters approve the bonds, property taxes won’t increase, he said. The mill levy rate has been flat since 2011 and would stay flat if the bond question is approved, according to a memo from the Department of Finance and Administration. It wasn’t clear how much property taxes would go down if the measure fails.
“Our students deserve state-of-the-art facilities in which to study,” Gamble said. “If we can do that and not increase people’s tax obligation, we think it’s a great deal.”
Paul Gessing, executive director of the Rio Grande Foundation, a conservative think tank, suggested in a blog post that people vote against all the bond questions on the ballot, especially for higher education.
He said the state already supports higher education, and the colleges and universities are too fragmented across the state. “We put a lot of money into higher education, with the opportunity scholarship and free college. We have long had concerns,” he said. “In particular with higher education, I think it’s time for a reevaluation and a more focused approach to those resources.”
Other statewide bond questions on the ballot would raise $24 million for senior centers and another would send $19 million to libraries.
Early voting is underway and Election Day is Nov. 8.