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In recent months, the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) has proposed building a $146 million expansion. In our view there should be specific criteria on the use of taxpayer money for new construction. UNMH should meet these criteria which include: Does the public want it and, in a world of limited resources, is the proposed project our highest priority?

To find out whether BernalilloCounty voters share our concerns about the proposed hospital expansion, we asked them and found that voters don’t think the hospital is a top priority and that they do want more accountability when major projects like this are considered.

According to the Utah polling firm NSON, only 15% of the registered voters in BernalilloCounty would make the building of a new hospital a priority. The public’s main priority, with 46% support, was to have more health clinics for the poor throughout the County. Even a new psychiatric hospital with behavioral health services got more support, at 16%, than the building of a new hospital. Still others wanted drug and alcohol rehabilitation services (10%). The poll was conducted January 13-16 with 400 registered voters in BernalilloCounty with a margin of error of 4.9%.

In this poll voters were asked to rank priorities for the health care dollar in BernalilloCounty, and 85% picked something other than the new hospital. Clearly, the local population believes that the time is right for healthcare clinics but not a new hospital.

There is more. When asked if taxpayer money meant for healthcare should be used to build a new hospital or used solely for the purpose of aiding the poor and indigent, 54% said use the money solely for the poor, and 30% would allow the money to be used for the new hospital. A significant majority of people want their scarce tax dollars to be used for its central purpose, helping the poor.

In addition, the public knows the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is being implemented and that it will bring massive changes to our system. When asked, voters said that UNMH should wait until ACA has taken effect, by a margin of 61% to 24%.  People want to wait to see what happens before making an investment in a hospital that’s not used.  ACA is supposed to drive people to the doctor, not the hospital, so big new hospitals may not be needed.

The most strongly-supported statement in the poll came when respondents were asked if new taxpayer-financed hospitals should be allowed with our without final say from elected officials. The voters said by 71% to 17% that hospitals of this kind should be specifically voted on by the CountyCommission before being considered by the state.

While advocates of limited government (as we are) were pleased with many of these responses, it is worth noting that voters do not think the county should do away with the mill levy for indigent health care. By a vote of 50% to 32%, voters said not to eliminate the mill levy. And when asked if the mill levy tax is too high, voters were split, with 46% saying it was about right, and 43% saying it was more than we can afford right now.

This poll clearly shows that the voters of BernalilloCounty understand the mill levy for indigent health care, support it, do not want to do away with it, and want to ensure that the money is spent wisely with oversight and accountability and is targeted toward efforts that they believe will benefit the low-income and needy.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility