Checking out the constitutional amendments

New Mexicans have been arguing for a couple of years about whether to amend the state constitution to distribute money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education programs.

As a public service to help prevent confusion, I’m reminding you that this issue is not on the election ballot. The necessary resolution has not been passed by the legislature.

Five proposals will in fact be on the ballot. Here’s information about some of them.

Amendment 1 is my favorite. Please vote “yes!” This amendment gets rid of the obsolete requirement that school elections must be held separately from all other elections. Instead, it allows them to be held together with nonpartisan municipal and other elections. Our general election ballots are too long, but our municipal and school election ballots are short. If the only issue is choosing a school board or city council member, most of us don’t vote. This amendment will simplify your life by allowing some elections to be consolidated. It will increase voter turnouts, which could possibly increase bring out more qualified candidates. Once the districts figure out the logistics of consolidation, this could also save considerable money.

Amendment 3 is related to judicial retention elections. I’m wary of it. Judges in New Mexico usually begin by being appointed to fill vacancies, most often created by other judges’ retirements. Each judge has to run once in a regular partisan election. After winning one election, that judge only has to run again in a “retention” election, with no opponent. We voters just say yes or no. Judges hardly ever lose retention elections. The constitution requires that a judge who wants to be retained must file as a candidate at the same time as candidates for all other offices, well in advance of the primary election. This amendment would eliminate that requirement. Then legislation would be needed to determine when these judges have to announce their intentions. The change might make things more convenient for candidates but the current system looks to be better for us voters. I say “nay.”

Amendment 5 deals with the Land Grant Permanent Fund, the same fund I mentioned above, which has recently grown to $13 billion. The amendment does three things: lifts a current restriction on the percentage of the fund that is allowed to be invested in foreign securities; raises the reserve required to be maintained in the fund from $5.8 billion to $10 billion to continue the yearly distribution at the rate of 5.5 percent through 2016; and raises the standard of fiduciary responsibility applied to the fund’s management. Raising the reserve requirement is a good safety measure and makes me favor this amendment. Removing the limit on foreign investments – currently limited to 15 percent of the fund — is not unreasonable in our current global investment climate. The State Investment Council, which is responsible for the fund, supports the amendment enthusiastically, according to its web site.

The truth is that this amendment is way less important than who manages the fund: a manager appointed by the State Investment Council. Three key members of the Council (Governor, Land Commissioner and Treasurer) are among our top elected officials, and we are voting on all three positions this November.

I offer no comments on amendments 2 and 4. Amendment 2 proposes to add a student to the board of regents of Northern New Mexico State School at El Rito. Amendment 4 would allow certain counties to expand their powers and become “urban counties.” As written it applies only to Valencia and Curry counties.

The Legislative Council Service provides a detailed guide to the amendments, with the full text, background, and arguments for and against each amendment. You can find it online at

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