New Mexico Urban County Charter, Amendment 4 (2014)

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Amendment 4
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Constitution:Constitutional amendment
Referred by:New Mexico Legislature
Topic:County and municipal governance on the ballot
Status:Approved Approveda
2014 measures
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November 4
Amendment 1 Defeatedd
Amendment 2 Approveda
Amendment 3 Approveda
Amendment 4 Approveda
Amendment 5 Approveda
Bond Question A Approveda
Bond Question B Approveda
Bond Question C Approveda
Polls
Local measures

The New Mexico Urban County Charter, Amendment 4 was on the November 4, 2014 ballot in New Mexico as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, where it was approved. The measure allowed certain counties, based on size and population, to become “urban counties” by appointing a charter commission of not less than three persons, drafting an urban county charter and submitting the proposed charter to voters. A county would need to be less than 1,500 square miles in area and have a population of 300,000 in order to become an "urban county."[1]

If voters approve the charter by a majority, then the county becomes an “urban county.”[1]

An “urban county” is essentially a “home rule county,” which may exercise all legislative powers and perform all governmental functions not denied by law.[1]

The proposed amendment was sponsored in the New Mexico Legislature by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-12) as Senate Joint Resolution 22.[2]

Election results


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This ballot measure article has preliminary election results. Certified election results will be added as soon as they are made available by the state or county election office. The following totals are as of 100 percent of precincts reporting.

New Mexico Amendment 4
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 246,500 59.18%
No170,03640.82%

Election results via: New Mexico Secretary of State

Text of measure

Constitutional changes

See also: Article X, New Mexico Constitution

The measure amended Section 10 of Article X of the Constitution of New Mexico to read:[1]

A. A county that is less than one thousand five hundred square miles in area and has [at the time of this amendment] a population of three hundred thousand or more may become an urban county by the following procedure:
(1) the board of county commissioners shall [by January 1, 2001] appoint a charter commission consisting of not less than three persons to draft a proposed urban county charter;
(2) the proposed charter shall provide for the form and organization of the urban county government and shall designate those officers that shall be elected and those officers and employees that shall perform the duties assigned by law to county officers; and
(3) within one year after the appointment of the charter commission, the proposed charter shall be submitted to the qualified voters of the county and, if adopted by a

majority of those [voters] voting, the county shall become an urban county. If, at the election or any subsequent election, the proposed charter is not adopted, then, after at least one year has elapsed after the election, pursuant to this section another charter commission may be appointed and another proposed charter may be submitted to the qualified voters for approval or disapproval.

B. An urban county may exercise all legislative powers and perform all governmental functions not expressly denied [to municipalities, counties or urban counties] by general law or charter and may exercise all powers granted to and shall be subject to all limitations [granted to] placed on municipalities by Article 9, Section 12 of the constitution of New Mexico. This grant of powers shall not include the power to enact private or civil laws except as incident to the exercise of an independent municipal power, nor shall it include the power to provide for a penalty greater than the penalty provided for a misdemeanor. No tax imposed by the governing body of an urban county, except a tax authorized by general law, shall become effective until approved by a majority vote in the urban county.

C. A charter of an urban county shall only be amended in accordance with the provisions of the charter.

D. If the charter of an urban county provides for a governing body composed of members elected by districts, a member representing a district shall be a resident and elected by the registered qualified electors of that district.

E. The purpose of this section is to provide for maximum local self-government. A liberal construction shall be given to the powers of urban counties.

F. The provisions of this section shall be self-executing.[3]


Background

In 2000, New Mexicans approved Question 1, which allowed Bernalillo County to become an “urban county.” However, county voters rejected an urban county charter in 2001. The county is permitted to initiate the process again at any time.[1]

Question 1 did not provide for any other counties to become “urban,” not because the amendment was specific to Bernalillo County, but because the amendment contained a deadline. Bernalillo County was the only county at the deadline to meet geographic size and population requirements.

With the approval of 2014's Amendment 4 and the removal of the deadline, Valencia County and Curry County would be eligible to become "urban counties" if their populations ever hit 300,000.

Support

Arguments

The New Mexico Legislative Council Service provided arguments for and against the constitutional amendment. The following were the council's arguments in support:

1. Expands the number of counties eligible to acquire urban county status.

Currently, every county in New Mexico except Bernalillo County is barred from becoming an urban county. If this amendment is adopted, any county that is less than 1,500 square miles in area and that has a population of at least 300,000 residents would become eligible to acquire urban county status.

2. Promotes greater self-government and reduces dependency on the state legislature.
Adoption of this amendment would allow counties that achieve urban county eligibility to acquire the same "home rule" powers that many municipalities currently enjoy. An urban county would have greater autonomy to be responsive to issues that specifically relate to its individual circumstances. This self-governmental authority would allow for less dependency on the state legislature to provide laws and financial resources for those counties and permit counties to pursue their policymaking goals without the need to invest time and resources to sway the legislature.

3. Sets up a cautious approach to potentially improving local government.
This amendment creates an opportunity to change how a county government works, but not without the assurance that the electorate may first consider thoroughly whether to exploit that opportunity. It establishes a cautious, thoughtful approach for county officials and voters in an eligible county to decide how and whether to become an urban county. The appointment of a charter commission, drafting of a proposed charter and vote on whether to adopt the charter would spark public discourse about the merits and disadvantages of becoming an urban county.

4. Clarifies what constitutes a majority of voters.
This amendment clarifies that a proposed urban county charter would go into effect if approved by a majority of qualified voters of the county voting on the charter, not a majority of qualified voters of the county. [3]

—New Mexico Legislative Council Service[1]

Opposition

Arguments

The New Mexico Legislative Council Service provided arguments for and against the constitutional amendment. The following were the council's arguments against:

1. Increases expenditure of public resources.

This amendment would create potential for a waste of resources and an increase in expenditures. If a board of county commissioners chose to pursue the process of becoming an urban county, public resources would be used to create a charter commission, draft a charter and hold an election. If voters later reject the proposed urban county charter, those expenses will not have achieved what the commission sought. If voters approve the urban county, the county would be required to expend resources to modify the county government to carry out the provisions of the urban county charter. In both instances, passage of this amendment would increase public spending.

2. The contours defining the powers of an urban county are unclear.
Passage of this amendment could lead to confusion about an urban county's powers. Several existing statutes explicitly address the powers of home rule municipalities, but those statutes were written before an "urban county" was contemplated and that term brought into use. It is unclear whether existing home rule statutes pertaining to municipalities would be interpreted as applicable to urban counties.

3. May result in duplication and confusion.
By allowing a county to become an urban county, with similar powers to a home rule municipality within that county, the proposed amendment may lead to duplication of services and offices, which could then result in confusion about which entity is responsible for certain services. Duplication of services could also raise costs to the recipients of those services in both the county and the city. The only county in the state that currently has home rule power is Los Alamos County. It has that power because it is also, technically, a municipality and there is no confusion because no other governments exist in Los Alamos.

4. Amendment would not immediately affect counties.
Currently, Bernalillo County is the only county in the state that satisfies the size and population requirements necessary for a county to attempt to become an urban county. The provisions of the constitution do not currently prevent Bernalillo County from subsequent attempts to become an urban county. Until another county meets the size and population requirements, this amendment will not have any effect. [3]

—New Mexico Legislative Council Service[1]

Path to the ballot

See also: Amending the New Mexico Constitution

According to Article XIX of the New Mexico Constitution, a simple majority was required in the legislature to refer the amendment to the ballot. SJR 22 was approved in the New Mexico Senate on February 19, 2014.[4] The amendment was approved in the New Mexico House on February 20, 2014.[5]

Senate vote

February 19, 2014 Senate vote

New Mexico SJR 22 Senate Vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 37 94.87%
No25.13%

House vote

February 20, 2014 House vote

New Mexico SJR 22 House Vote
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 55 85.94%
No914.06%

See also

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References