Years will pass before New Mexico understands all the ramifications of social media giant Facebook choosing to place a data center in Los Lunas, a decision announced last week.
Yet we have to admit to feeling glee at hearing the news that New Mexico — for the first time in a long time — is the winner in an economic competition with other states. Gov. Susana Martinez is crowing about the announcement, and she should rightly be pleased that her outreach worked. First there were 20 states in the running, with Utah and New Mexico the finalists. Then there was one.
What seemed to win the day for New Mexico was the unified front the state presented; Utah couldn’t make up its mind. But New Mexico’s leaders all spoke with one voice. We want Facebook. The winning deal included local and state tax breaks, assurances about water availability, Public Service Company of New Mexico’s willingness to supply renewable energy, support of the congressional delegation and determined wooing from other state officials.
Imagine what would happen if all sectors — private and government — worked together more often?
Sounding a word of caution, and perhaps rightly so, was Paul Gessing of the right-leaning think tank, the Rio Grande Foundation. He Tweeted, “Hooray we got Facebook … hopefully that’s a good thing.” He went on to write in his Errors of Enchantment blog that, “We at the Rio Grande Foundation have raised concerns about the subsidies and tax breaks as well as the impact the facility will have on the electrical grid, but at this point all we can do is hope that Facebook’s presence in the Land of Enchantment has a positive impact on the broader economy.”
Facebook will be breaking ground in October for the proposed $250 million data center, which is just the first phase. It expects to be fully operational by 2018. That’s fast work. The company has committed to 30 full-time workers at the site, with hundreds more possible in the construction phase and — best of all — a pledge to find workers and materials locally.
Did New Mexico give up too much? Here are just some of the incentives. Los Lunas has agreed to forgo property taxes for 30 years in exchange for annual payments starting at $50,000. The village council also approved an ordinance allowing for the issuance of up to $30 billion in industrial revenue bonds. The hope, of course, that other tech companies will follow Facebook.
When that happens — if it happens — New Mexico will know that this package of incentives is paying off in the best possible way, with long-term, sustainable economic development.
A victory for voters
For a lesson on how government should work, examine a New Mexico Supreme Court decision handed down last week that expands voting rights and potentially increases voter participation.
Here’s what happened. To become law, voting-related amendments to the state constitution have a high bar — it was thought they had to be approved by 75 percent. Without the two-thirds majority, amendments that would have eliminated the requirement for separate school elections, updated offensive language in the constitution and made it clear felons can petition for the right to vote languished.
To members of the League of Women Voters and a host of civic groups, that outcome was unacceptable. They believed that in 1996, a different provision to the constitution made it clear that the 75 percent requirement is mandatory only when restricting, not expanding, voting rights. The league went to the Supreme Court for clarification, with Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto arguing the case free of charge. Good citizens, all.
Justices heard testimony last week, and by announcing the thrust of the decision quickly, cleared the way for lawmakers to act. The Legislature still must pass a law allowing school board elections to be scheduled at other times than odd-numbered years in February. Eventually, we trust, city, community college, water district and school elections — all nonpartisan — could be held at the same time, cutting costs and increasing turnout. The court’s decision also will allow for the removal of archaic language that denied “idiots” and “insane persons” the right to vote. Finally, the decision makes it clear that felons can have voting rights restored, as state law allows but the constitution seemed to forbid.
The court action also gives insight to a very different New Mexico than the one in which we live today. The provision making school elections separate had its origins in the fact that women were not allowed to vote — except, that is, in school elections. The thinking being, of course, that women should be able to influence the education of children. The 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, but New Mexico never removed the provision requiring separate school elections. It held for more than 100 years, but no longer.
The court will direct the New Mexico Compilation Commission, the body responsible for publishing the state’s laws, to publish the new amendments. Further, justices will issue a written decision to decipher the state’s election law that concerns the “supermajority” requirement. When constitutional provisions seem in conflict, a court must make the law clear. That’s a good lesson for September, when the nation’s Constitution Day is celebrated each Sept. 17.