Hannah Borden, 7, helps her father Billy Borden vote in Tuesday’s special election at Marshall Junior High School. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.
Although one state constitutional amendment won handily, the second amendment still was in doubt as of press time late Tuesday night.
Voters have given Gov. Bill Richardson new powers he had sought over public schools, but it remained in doubt whether they also would also agree to increase education funding.
In a special election Tuesday that represents Richardson’s first real test since coming to power last year, 55 percent of New Mexico voters favored his plan to revamp the governing system for public schools and 45 percent opposed it.
The proposed constitutional change to increase the yearly payout from a state permanent fund was too close for pollsters to call at press time. Amendment 2 was favored by about 500 votes with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
However, there was a question about results in Sandoval County, which late in the night reported a major shift in returns that would tilt the statewide tallies against the proposal. Sandoval County election officials could not be reached to confirm results they reported to the secretary of state’s office.
Richardson told supporters the permanent fund measure was too close to call. He said it delivered a message from voters that “they want us to be careful and prudent,” with the permanent fund. “That message has been heard.”
Locally, there wasn’t any doubt as to the preference of the two educational amendments.
Curry County voters rejected both amendments — 62 percent opposed Amendment No. 1, and 72 percent opposed Amendment 2.
In Roosevelt County, voters turned down both amendments by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
De Baca and Quay counties also opposed both amendments as did most of the state’s rural counties.
Clovis superintendent of schools Neil Nuttall said with the passage of Amendment No. 1, the work has just begun. There will have to be a revamping of the state education department under the new secretary of education.
“To fulfill the expectations of the voters, guidelines and procedures have yet to be developed,” he said. “It will take a good effort to get all that in place.”
Funding will be the key issue, Nuttall said.
“The funding issue is the critical issue for those of us trying to provide the service to the community,” he said. “Our mission is still the same. It’s just a matter of what revenue sources we have to draw from to fulfill that mission.”
Portales superintendent Jim Holloway said there are “pros and cons” to the creation of an education department headed by a secretary of education.
“We heard it would be a close race on both amendments,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be this close. Improvements in our educational system need to be made. There were a lot of questions whether this would be the way to bring those about. Those were the concerns many of us had. I’m not surprised it’s coming down as close as it is.”
Holloway said the school funding has already been set aside for the coming school year, but the next academic year could face serious problems.
“The funding for 2004-05 will be affected by this vote,” he said. “We have to find some way to make up the difference in our reserves being depleted. I haven’t heard of any other funding alternatives to the one we just voted on.”
Texico superintendent R.L. Richards said he agreed with Nuttall about funding concerns.
“It’s like he said, ‘The check’s already been written with the passage of the new law,’” Richards said. “And without the money in the bank, it will be difficult to make that law work. But if that’s what the voters want, that’s what we need to do for the kids’ sake.”
The Democratic governor’s political record is unblemished since he won the job and succeeded in pushing his agenda — highlighted by a $360 million income tax cut — through the Legislature.
Improving education, he says, is critical for New Mexico and his plans to revitalize the state’s economy.
The governor ran into trouble with the funding proposal in conservative-leaning counties in eastern and southern New Mexico.
Amendment 1 gives Richardson control over education policy by creating a cabinet-level secretary of education appointed by the governor. The measure does away with the current policy-setting state school board.
Allied with the governor is an unusual coalition of conservatives and liberals, business groups and unions, Democrats and some Republicans.
The state Republican Party and state Land Commissioner Pat Lyons said the permanent fund proposal is fiscally unwise because it digs deeper into a fund created to ensure stable financing for schools for years to come.
The state GOP favors the secretary of education — an idea former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson backed in his two terms without success in the Democratic-led Legislature.
Several current and former members of the state Board of Education, along with some local school boards, oppose an education secretary answerable to the governor, saying the change is politically motivated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
State (99 percent reporting)
Amendment 1 — Yes-97,784 No-80,577
Amendment 2 — Yes-89,233 No-88,673
Amendment 1 — Yes-1687 No-2774
Amendment 2 — Yes-1265 No-3203
Gross Receipts — Yes-1807 No-2371
Amendment 1 — Yes-139 No-277
Amendment 2 — Yes-119 No-294
Gross Receipts — Yes-96 No-113
Amendment 1 — Yes-544 No-1285
Amendment 2 — Yes-584 No-1242
Gross Receipts — Yes-N/A No-N/A
Amendment 1 — Yes-585 No-947
Amendment 2 — Yes-514 No-1025
Gross Receipts — Yes-N/A No-N/A