Doomed to Repeat History

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. Ten years ago a transportation tax increase was pushed by former Mayor Jim Baca. The idea was to raise money to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure. It was a hard sell at the time, but one of the “selling points” was that it was a “temporary” tax increase with a ten year sunset provision.

At the time of the increase, an editorial took issue with the fact that a temporary tax would be pushed to fund what is usually considered one of the few justifiable roles of local government:

Keeping the city’s streets and intersections in good repair isn’t a special project for a special tax; it is one of the most basic of city services. If City Hall had been doing its job (for many years before Mayor Baca came into office), street maintenance would already be getting done from the existing revenue sources Bregman and Brasher propose to harness.

About six years after the tax increase was passed, an audit found that the money was being mismanaged by Mayor Martin Chavez’s administration:

After nearly six years, a quarter-cent tax for transportation has not caused an increase in the passenger service provided by the city bus system, a new audit says.

The tax has provided $28 million for the Transit Department, and $21 million should have been used for enhancing bus service under a policy approved by the City Council, the audit says.

However, the Transit Department “is not currently complying with this expenditure requirement, because the amount of passenger service being provided is currently at approximately the same level as existed prior to Transit receiving these quarter-cent tax funds,” says the report from the city Office of Internal Audit and Investigations.

Then, in 2006, Mayor Marty Chavez and some City Councilors try to sneak a tax extension in while folks were focused on the Election Day at hand:

November 6th, 2006… the day before the election where Democrats took over both the House and Senate, the Albuquerque City Council passed an extension to the Transportation Infrastructure Tax. The Council and the Almighty Alcalde used the cover of the election to rail road the public and shove a tax hike through for the primary purpose of building Marty’s little train.

The move outraged the public and a huge political brouhaha ensued. Months later bowing to public pressure, the council pulled the extension and created a marketing, uh… “task force” to sell, uh… “study” the trolley. All of that took place almost exactly two years ago.

Well, very few people were buying what Mayor Marty was selling, namely the need to build a very expensive trolley system down Central. Oh sure, the Mayor tried everything he could think of to convince folks it was a good idea. He even paid consultants to sell the idea:


Now, there are a couple of points that really ought to jump out at you. First and most obvious is that the only way this can be funded is by extending a tax on everyone that was supposed to expire.

The next eyebrow raising fact requires a little basic math. Keep in mind that the Albuquerque Metro Area population is up to around 800,000, and is expected to reach a million before long. Yet, this Streetcar is only going to be used by about 5,000 people. Put another way… 99.5% of the people are expected to pay hundreds of millions of dollars (these things never come in on budget – think train), so 0.5% of the population can ride a streetcar instead of taking the bus.

Mind you, whether you call it a streetcar or a trolley, or a light rail system, the reality is that we already have an economical way for the public to travel, and it’s called the bus. If the Mayor and City Council really wanted to improve public transportation they would just increase bus routes. It’s cheaper and heck of lot more flexible to deal with changing population centers in a growing city.

Oh, I know. No one wants to ride a bus right? Wrong!

Even with gas prices plummeting from a July high of $4 per gallon to the current price of $1.84 per gallon — the lowest gas prices have been since 2004 — bus ridership in the Duke City is still up from this time last year.

So, where does this bring us? Well, the Mayor and the City Council want us to turn what was originally promised as a temporary 10 year tax increase into a permanent tax increase:


Albuquerque city councilors are scrambling to reassure voters that a proposed $37 million-a-year transportation tax won’t last forever.


Council President Isaac Benton and Councilor Ken Sanchez held a news conference Thursday and said they plan to introduce a resolution at Monday’s council meeting clarifying that the quarter-cent gross receipts tax, which will be on the Oct. 6 ballot, will expire after 10 years.

The tax was first approved in a special election in 1999 and is up for renewal this year because of a 10-year sunset clause in the original ballot question.

But the ballot question councilors approved for the extension this year does not include an expiration date, meaning the tax could continue indefinitely.

We’re supposed to forget that the Mayor has been pushing this tax increase for three years to build a trolley and believe it is for trails and roads. We’re also supposed to forget that they once promised to make it temporary. What is it they say about history repeating itself?

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it

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Now, you may be tempted to argue that this isn’t really an accurate example of history repeating itself. After all, the first time, voters were asked to approve a tax increase that had a sunset provision. This time the voters are being asked to extend the same tax increase without a sunset provision, and believe it will only last ten years. Even more ridiculous is that we’re supposed to believe the sunset provision was left out “accidentally” by our elected officials.

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