Pundits Doll Up Three Measures for Next Year's Legislative Session
By Marisa Demarco
It's that time of year again. Statesmen and women in New Mexico are looking toward the next Legislative Session (Jan. 16 to March 17) with a peculiar gleam in their eye. It's the shine of potential laws aimed to support their causes. There's no telling which measures will find a sponsor or corner the support they need to become one for the lawbooks, but this week, the Alibi'shighlighting a few contenders: a bill that would call for automatic, state-funded recounts in certain elections; statewide expansion of parts of Albuquerque's HEART ordinance; and Think New Mexico's "30 percent solution," which would require the lottery to put more of its revenue toward scholarships.
I Demand a Recount!
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is spearheading a measure that would mandate a recount for federal or statewide offices when the races are close (within a 1/2 of 1 percent margin). The Every Vote Counts Act would also set up a fund that would pay for the mandated recount.
Today, recounts are paid for by the candidates who request them if there's no change in the outcome of the election, and price varies depending on the size of the county, says Ernie Marquez, the state elections director. Associated costs include: the summoning of the poll officials, the sheriff's office that delivers the summons, the docket fees, etc. "It's always been an issue of money," Marquez says. Furthermore, he adds, counties are often left "holding the bag for recounts."
A deposit of $50 per precinct and $10 per voting machine is required for recounts, but that's only a fraction (about 10 percent) of what it could end up costing for each precinct, Marquez estimates. "What happens is once [candidates] lose the recount, they never pay the rest of it," he says. "If there was money to do that, it would be a lot more palatable."
The Every Vote Counts Act calls on the Legislature to appropriate $500,000 to the fund and maintain it. The fund would draw additional money from a candidate registration fee based on the number of registered voters in the candidate's district. If a recount is required, the fund would be administered by the Secretary of State's Office.
A Bigger HEART
Mayor Martin Chavez is trying to find support for a bill that aims to lessen pet overpopulation and "end euthanasia" in New Mexico, says Deborah James, the mayor's spokesperson. The bill would expand parts of Albuquerque's HEART (Humane and Ethical Animal Rules and Treatment) Ordinance.
The ordinance went into effect in Albuquerque on Oct. 10. Under it, cats and dogs must be spayed or neutered (unless owners pay for breeders' permits) and must have a microchip implanted with information on how to contact owners.
Chavez has sponsors for the statewide bill, called the Animal Shelter Act, in mind, but James wouldn't say who just yet. Albuquerque shelters take in many animals from surrounding counties, so making spay-neuter and microchipping laws apply to the whole state would help the city, she says.
Love for the Lotto
The New Mexico Lottery and Think New Mexico agree on one thing: The scholarship that's sent thousands to college in this state needs to thrive. Deciding on a method for making sure the Lottery Success Scholarship can sustain itself is where the institutions diverge.
Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan, independent think tank, is proposing a law that would demand 30 percent of lottery revenues go to the scholarship. Today, after prizes are awarded and overhead is paid, the remaining money is spent on scholarships, says Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico. Last year, 56 percent of lottery revenues went to prizes, 20 percent went to overhead and "what's left over, 24 percent, trickled down to scholarships."
The think tank, with endorsement from Gov. Bill Richardson, is searching for legislators to carry a measure into next year's session that would turn that equation on its head. The lottery would be required by law to put 30 percent of its money to scholarships and figure out how to make the rest of their operation function on the remaining 70 percent. Nathan says the bill would also require a seat for a representative of higher education on the lottery board.
New Mexico Lottery CEO Tom Romero says the plan might not actually increase the dollars going to scholarship. "We are concerned that requiring the lottery to return 30 percent immediately would require us to cut our prize percentage payout (money that is returned to players in the form of prizes) and our advertising, both of which would negatively impact sales," Romero wrote in an e-mail. If Romero's predictions are correct, it would also mean less money for the scholarship.
Think New Mexico came up with some suggestions for how the lottery could cut costs in "Averting the Crisis," a report released in September that is the composite of about a year's worth of research. According to 2005 estimates from the Higher Education Department, the scholarship fund could be $18 million in the hole by 2011--a debt that could require the lottery to raise scholarship requirements or decrease funds. Members of Think N.M. suggest the lottery could avoid such a pitfall by cutting down on administrative costs. According to the report, 20 percent of lottery revenue goes to administrative costs, a number the organization charges is higher than all but four other state lotteries.
"It is very difficult to make true comparisons between lotteries because of their size, governmental structure, the products they offer and the dates contracts were awarded," Romero writes. New Mexico Lottery has hired Getronics, a company with extensive lottery expertise, to conduct a performance audit, he adds. The report should be out next month. The CEO holds to the old adage: "You can't save your way to success."
"As business people, we realize that it's not just about cutting costs," he says. "That's why we're also looking for ways to increase sales."