This election, voters are being asked to give up power — there’s no other way to describe the effects of Constitutional Amendment 1.
The amendment, approved by a bipartisan Legislature, is a proposed transformation of the often-troubled Public Regulation Commission from an elected body to one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. A bipartisan nominating panel, much as happens with judicial appointments, would screen candidates and the governor must choose from their picks.
The idea is to take politics out of the PRC and insist on expertise. While qualifications for the PRC have been increased through previous reforms, this new, leaner PRC — it would decrease from five to three members — would be comprised of men and women rich in experience on matters of energy, utilities, regulatory law and technology.
There is no question it would reduce the influence of voters. Of course, many never paid any attention to that election anyway, which is why the PRC so often has been a mess of dysfunction and, in its earlier days, even criminal commissioners.
What the amendment is designed to do is ensure that experts will be in charge of regulation utility rate hikes with a commission to screen the qualifications of applicants. Nominations also make it possible to attract the sorts of candidates who might not be able to win an election but who could serve capably. This process is designed to find more Doug Howes — appointed by former Gov. Susana Martinez. He is someone who could not be elected as an independent appointed by a Republican in a heavily Democratic district. He is widely agreed to be Martinez’s finest appointment and the sort of commissioner the PRC needs.
For people who believe the people should never surrender a vote, read no more. You’re a no vote.
For us, watching the PRC fall short of optimum functionality year after year, reform is crucial. New Mexico needs a commission that can rule fairly, quickly and navigate the changing landscape of utility regulation — and that’s just part of the PRC’s job. Elected commissions across the nation are the exception, with 39 states using appointments and only 11 choosing to elect commissioners. Changing the PRC to an appointed body would place New Mexico firmly with the majority — three is not an unusual number, either, for anyone worried about reducing the size of the commission. Legislators can ensure residency requirements when they pass enabling legislation to set up the new commission — a commissioner for each congressional district, for example. Having three commissioners saves money, meaning those dollars can be redirected to hire staff; the PRC is always short of funds, something that needs to change as the body is reformed.
Many critics are worried dark money spent through political action committees is supporting the move, and that is always a concern. But should the board become an appointed body, no more candidates will be running backed by the Public Service Company of New Mexico. Setting terms for six years allows commissioners to gain expertise; it also reduces the opportunity for a governor cozy with utility or energy interests to dominate the board. And remember, the Legislature must confirm appointments and commissioners cannot all be from the same political party.
In short, there are arguments on both sides of Constitutional Amendment 1. We think a streamlined panel of experts will better serve New Mexico. Governing and regulation is a work in progress, with the PRC a body that needs tinkering every so often.
The New Mexican recommends a yes vote on Constitutional Amendment 1.
The discussion on Constitutional Amendment 2 can be much shorter. This is a proposal to amend the Constitution to allow the Legislature to adjust the term of state, county or district officers and stagger the election of officers. It also clarifies that officers elected to fill a vacancy will take office on the first day of January after their election.
The New Mexican recommends a yes vote on Constitutional Amendment 2.
Questions A, B and C would allow the state to issue bonds to raise funds for senior citizens centers, libraries and colleges and universities, both for construction and to acquire materials.
Bond A would authorize $33,292,141 to pay for construction, improve senior citizen facilities — including the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center in Santa Fe — and buy equipment and allow the state to collect property taxes to pay for it. Bond Issue A would account for $1.83 per $100,000 of asset value.
Bond B would allow some $9,751,433 million to be spent on tribal, school, academic and public libraries across the state. B accounts for $0.54 per $100,000 of asset value in the total bond package.
Bond C would benefit higher education, special schools and tribal schools in the amount of $156,358,475 — including projects at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe Community College and the Santa Fe Indian Center. Bond C counts for $8.62 per $100,000 of the total.
Because the property tax year 2020 mil levy is 1.36 mills — the same as the 2018 and 2019 rates —passing the bonds does not mean a property tax increase.
The New Mexican recommends a yes vote on Bonds A, B and C.
Finally, Santa Fe County is asking voters to approve issuing three separate bond packages. The first would raise $4,829,000 for work on open spaces, trails and parks in the county. Bond 2 would amount to $11,421,000 to improve county roads while Bond 3 is $3,750,000 to buy property and water rights for water and wastewater projects in the county. Projects include the installation of sports lighting in Pojoaque Valley Recreation Complex, repaving of several county roads and further work on the Santa Fe River Trail from Siler Road to San Ysidro Crossing. The projects are important and will improve life in Santa Fe County — best of all, they will not necessitate a property tax increase.
The New Mexican recommends a yes vote on all three Santa Fe County bond proposals.