Now that the dust has settled in the wake of the 2008 election, New Mexico’s political leaders will have some needed time to rest and regroup for the upcoming 60-day legislative session, which begins in January. Allegations of voter fraud took a back seat to the Obama-led landslide, but that does not mean that there aren’t very real issues with voting in New Mexico that must be addressed.
The problem I am referring to is not the mechanism of voting or tallying of votes, but in a system that allows taxpayer money to fund government advertising campaigns in support of higher taxes. Simply put, using taxpayer money to fund one side of a ballot measure as we saw throughout this election is unfair and anti-democratic.
On the Rail Runner gross-receipts tax hike, which appeared on ballots in Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Valencia counties, approximately $30,000 taxpayer dollars were spent on behalf of the tax hike.
Certainly, it is a good thing that voters are able to have the final say on these tax hikes, but taxpayer-funded advocates are already able to work full time as agents of the hospitals, universities, and libraries (to name just a few) on behalf of higher taxes in anticipation of Election Day. Unfortunately, there is probably little that can be done to stop that because these tax hikes are in their own self interest.
Nonetheless, we must recognize that having large, taxpayer-funded bureaucracies gives the “yes” side a significant advantage over taxpayer-citizens who must organize in their spare time using their own resources.
After all, opinion pieces from each of these “yes” campaigns appeared in newspapers across the state. For the Rio Grande Foundation or opponents of these taxes to gain similar platforms, we’d have to organize separate campaigns to fight each measure. This would be a time-consuming and expensive process, undertaken with private resources.
Having advocates for these proposals working on the taxpayer dime obviously tilts the advantage in the direction of higher taxes, but giving the pro-tax side of the debate the additional advantage of a significant advertising budget is simply too much and is truly unfair.
Thankfully, it can also be easily stopped. New Mexico law should be changed to prohibit the use of government money to advertise on behalf of ballot questions.
Government employees would still be allowed to write opinion pieces in newspapers, speak to community groups, and appear on radio and television programs to advocate for their positions, but no taxpayer money should be used to purchase billboards, radio and television ads, or newspapers ads.
We at the Rio Grande Foundation were disappointed with the results of the Rail Runner and various statewide bond ballot measure votes. We believe that it is unfair and unwise to increase New Mexicans’ gross-receipts and property taxes, particularly in the current, tough economic climate when increasing numbers of people are barely getting by, but we have to move on. That doesn’t mean we can’t make the process more democratic in the future.
Before voters are asked to raise taxes next time, the Legislature should consider some means of banning these taxpayer-financed advertising campaigns.
Paul Gessing is president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a non-partisan research and educational organization dedicated to promoting principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.