Posts Tagged ‘City of Albuquerque’

Public Financing Makes for Quiet Campaigns

Monday, July 20th, 2009

With all three Albuquerque mayoral candidates having expended between 10% – 20% of their taxpayer funded campaign dollars so far, one thing is very clear. It’s an awfully quiet campaign. This works in the incumbent’s favor. Everyone knows I really dislike taxpayer funded campaigns, because I believe they hurt, rather than help the process.

The irony here is that the advocates of these taxpayer funded campaigns argue that they enable people who would not otherwise be able to run the opportunity to seek elected office. Of course, the three people who are running on the taxpayer dollar have all been successful at getting elected in the past through voluntary contributions as opposed to forced taxpayer support. So, that argument doesn’t really hold much water.

Worse yet, the incumbent has been able to leverage his position as mayor to basically ignore the race until the final two months and focus on generating positive press through city staffers. With government budgets being tighter, maybe we can eliminate all taxpayer funded campaigns as one measure of belt tightening.

Mayor Chavez and APS and New Media

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

If you haven’t read Mark Bralley’s account of his most recent encounter with Mayor Chavez’s security detail, I strongly urge you to do so. Here’s a little snippet to get you going:

“You have to leave. You aren’t the press. You don’t have credentials,” APS Police Officer Paul Schaefer said in rapid succession as he took the contact role. “I was told you’re not part of the press club.”

“You’re wrong,” I said.

I looked at a pocket in my photo vest that has a clear plastic front. It’s designed to keep credentials visible yet out of the way. Print journalists often wear credentials on a lanyard around their neck. However, still photographers prefer not to wear lanyards as they interfere neck straps; so the pocket is convenient. I had the pass issued by the Secret Service last week for the Presidential visit to Rio Rancho visible.

“White House Press Pool,” I asked Schaefer, showing him the pass?

“Never heard of it,” Schaefer said.

“Ever heard of the President of the United States?”

Vaguely,” Schaefer said.

“How about the First Amendment,” I asked?

I’ve heard of the First Amendment,” Schaefer said.

“As a matter of fact, when I…” I said, as I dug deeper for my own credentials, which list former and current clients and my own sites; there was also an old State Senate Press pass.

“but I’ve been told this isn’t a public event,” Schaefer said.

“Well it is a public event when you have the Mayor of the City of Albuquerque present,” I said.

Ok, let’s deal with the obvious first. Why does the Mayor of Albuquerque need a security detail on the campus of a local school? Especially, a security detail that acts like the Gestapo. Apparently when Richard Romero was on 770 KKOB with Bob Clark, he raised the same question. I didn’t hear that interview, but I did catch Clark poking fun at the Mayor on another morning.

Clark pointed out that former Congresswoman Heather Wilson did not find the need to travel with a security detail when she moved through Albuquerque. Although, in all fairness, Clark did mention that Wilson was often accompanied by her former communications guy, Enrique Knell, who is known to pack and shoot a camera. Something that leaves at least one Albuquerque Mayor fearful for his… um, actually, I’m not sure how to finish that sentence.

There is of course irony here. I know for a fact that Mayor Chavez considers bloggers part of the new media establishment when it is in his best interest. Consider this email I received from Brent Blackaby on October 29, 2007:

Hi all—

We’d like to invite you to join us tomorrow, Tuesday, October 30th at 5:30pm MDT for a New Mexico blogger conference call with Marty Chavez, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

We’re anticipating that the call will last about 30 minutes – 10-15 minutes for some introductory comments from Marty, and 15-20 minutes of Q&A; from you.

Let me know if you’re interested in participating, and I’ll send along a dial-in number on Tuesday. Also, please feel free to forward this invite around to other progressive New Mexico bloggers that you know.

Thanks – and we look forward to chatting with you on Tuesday!

Best regards,

Brent Blackaby
Chavez for Senate

Of course, it’s not just the Mayor who acted inappropriately here. Read Bralley’s post and you’ll find that APS was also less than tolerant of new media members. I can’t tell you how wrong I find that to be on so many different levels.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit I know Mark Bralley. I’ve even found myself on more than one occasion caught in the crosshairs of his camera.

I don’t remember feeling afraid, but maybe, just to be safe, I ought to look into hiring some private security.

Will They Never Learn?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

First, Mayor Chavez come up with the “brilliant” idea to shift one time construction revenue into the recurring costs pool. Now, he wants to bring back the idea with nine lives – the infamous Streetcar. Will it never end?

Plans for modern rail in Albuquerque aren’t dead just yet.

Mayor Martin Chávez, still pushing for a streetcar system, is broaching the idea of a scaled-down project that would connect Downtown, the university area and the airport.

It would cost about $130 million — far less than the broader, $270 million system scrapped 2 1/2 years ago.

Even at a reduced price, the council may not be willing to climb aboard. Several city councilors, even those inclined to support the project, are skeptical about moving forward anytime soon.

A proposal to be considered next month, in fact, could limit the mayor’s flexibility to pursue the project.

“Unless somebody drops $300 million on us, it’s going to go to the voters some day,” City Council President Isaac Benton said in an interview. But “I don’t see any immediate movement on it.”

Even if someone drops $300 million of our children’s money (that is what we’re talking about here, ours is long since spent) into our elected officials laps, it still doesn’t change the fact that it will result in NEW recurring revenue expenses. Based on the current budget crisis, it is impossible to understand how anyone could think this is a good idea.

Shifting Costs is not a Budget Solution

Monday, May 18th, 2009

The Albuquerque City Council has a budget proposal from Mayor Chavez in front of them that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever in the current economic climate:

On the table now is the mayor’s $475 million proposal for basic city operations. It would shift money out of the construction budget and into the operating fund to help offset dwindling revenue from the tight economy. The measure would also cut about 200 vacant jobs from the city payroll.

“There’s not a lot of room to play around with,” said Councilor Ken Sanchez, chairman of the council budget committee.

In hearings this month, councilors have already made changes to provide enough money for regular city employees to get 3 percent raises, starting July 1.

Shifting costs from one time construction expenditures to cover recurring expenses accomplishes one thing and one thing only… a postponement of the inevitable. It just means that you are putting off the layoffs of city employees and cutting of services until after the election. Of course, we are going to have the same problem next budget year. Actually, the problems next budget year were originally reported to be even worse.

Now, I realize there may be a handful of you, probably Mayor Chavez included, that believe that the worst is behind us, and that the picture for the future is brighter. Of course, this belief has no grounding in reality:

Loan servicers are overwhelmed by the flood of applications. Mortgage investors are angry about a congressional bill prohibiting them from suing servicers that modify loans. Foreclosures are rising as unemployment soars.

I don’t live in the City of Albuquerque, but I would urge those of you that do to avoid voting for anyone not up to the task of making the hard decisions of truly balancing the City budget.

Mayor Chavez Buys Votes for $1.3 Million

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I’ve long been an opponent of publicly funded campaigns, and it appears that the mayoral campaign currently underway is the perfect case study of why using our tax dollars to elect politicians is a lousy idea.

First, let’s consider how Albuquerque’s incumbent Mayor Marty Chavez was able to get on the ballot:

The confirmed city employees constitute 42 percent of the volunteer base used to collect the qualifying donations, making Fleisher correct in that respect. But those employees collected more than their share of the contributions. The review shows that 152 of the 295 books, or 52 percent, were used by city employees to qualify the mayor for public financing.

For example, the city’s employee relations manager, Lawrence Torres — who is the administration’s liaison with the city’s unionized workers — collected 10 books for the mayor, which was the largest group of books collected by one individual. Torres confirmed he collected the contributions, but declined to discuss how he did it, or why he participated in the drive.

Along with Torres, many of the city’s department directors — who are appointed by the mayor — collected contributions, as did many of their department managers plus the mayor’s own staff.

In other words, there is nothing grassroots about the whole taxpayer funded campaign program. The biggest beneficiaries are those already in office. Of course, getting your appointees to collect the signatures and money you need to get on the ballot and rake in the taxpayer money is only the beginning of the story.

Next comes the actual execution of the campaign. This is where you have to convince people to vote for you. Of course, once again, the incumbent in this case, Mayor Marty Chavez, has a great strategy. Try and buy the votes of a large voting block:

Mayor Martin Chávez says the city’s blue-collar, clerical, security and transit employees won’t have to wait an extra six months for their annual pay raises.

Chávez said his budget office had found about $1.3 million that isn’t needed in a workman’s compensation fund. That will allow the city to provide pay raises to more of its employees on July 1, the mayor said. The raises are expected to be about 3 percent.

That’s amazing! Mayor Chavez found $1.3 million to pass out as raises. Somebody please explain to me how that happens. Last I checked the City of Albuquerque was looking at huge budget shortfalls:

Albuquerque faces a $20 million budget shortfall because of the worsening economy, and city officials are trying bridge the budget gap without laying off city workers.

In fact, the $20 million budget shortfall is just the beginning. It has been estimated that this amount will grow even larger next year. Yet, the Mayor is handing out raises. There is only one motivation to do this – buying votes!

$320K per Job – What a Deal!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Wish lists abound for the latest proposed once in a lifetime federal government giveaway package. First, Wall Street got $700 Billion from to keep banks from closing and pulling credit off the table. Granted, that didn’t seem to have the desired effect, but as the saying goes, “Try, try again.”

Now, the latest greatest big idea is to give state and municipal governments all across the country $500 – $700 Billion in economic stimulus money. And, these government entities are just full of great ideas on how to use the money. Look no further than Albuquerque’s very own, Mayor Martin Chavez to see true economic genius at work (subscription):

Chávez unveiled a $1.6 billion wish list of projects Tuesday that includes $885 million for new renewable-energy power plants in and around Albuquerque and $90 million for a streetcar down Central.

The projects on Chávez’s list include two West Side solar power plants with a $745 million price tag, $34.5 million for a solar array at Albuquerque’s airport, and $72 million for energy-related retrofits to city buildings, along with tens of millions of dollars for city street projects.

Chávez said the $1.6 billion would be an unprecedented infusion of federal money, but it’s unclear whether the city projects would be ready to go and therefore eligible for the money.

Speaking Saturday in his weekly video address to the nation, Obama said state and local officials would have to be ready to move quickly or else lose the money — how quickly has not been determined.

“We think they all qualify,” Chávez said.

He estimates his wish list of projects would create 5,000 jobs of all kinds by 2010.

Wow, what a truly amazing accomplishment! For a mere $1.6 Billion, we could see 5,000 new jobs created. Let’s see, I guess that would work out to a cost of about $320,000 per new job created. What a bargain! Of course, most important of all is that we would finally get that streetcar that the Mayor has been lusting after for quite some time. You know, the one that has been killed time and time again.

Like, I’ve said in the past, I’ve got a layman’s understanding of the economic policy at best. I’m sure that the fact that we continue to lose millions of jobs after the bailout is just… well, just an unfortunate coincidence. I’m sure giving hundreds of billions of dollars to municipalities must somehow be a great idea – although exactly how escapes me.

Yeah, I’m probably just a little too slow to understand all of this. Giving folks like Mayor Chavez money to spend, so that they can create new jobs at $320K a pop probably makes perfect sense. Oh sure, I know some of you may point out that the private sector can do it for less:

ACCION New Mexico jumpstarted the local car and recreational vehicle detailing business Recapturing Vehicles with an $8,000 loan. The owner of Recapturing Vehicles, Jason Burns, had been turned down by five banks for a loan. Now, his company grosses $100,000 annually and Burns has two full-time employees.

But, you just don’t understand the way government works. Why spend an average of $2,500 to create three new jobs when you can spend $960,000?

See the government knows what they’re doing. Why just consider for a moment that in recent years the City of Albuquerque (same goes for the state and the nation) has had the largest budgets in their history to spend. Consider how many jobs they’ve been able to create during that time, and look at how strong our economy is doing because of it. It only makes sense that if we grow our government even more, we’ll see an even greater impact on the economy.

What we’re experiencing now is only the beginning – spend, spend, spend. Look where it got us today, and imagine where it can get us tomorrow.

Have They Lost Their Mind?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

An article on Tuesday in the Journal indicated that the City of Albuquerque is already projecting that they will be unable to meet their current financial obligations (subscription):

Albuquerque’s system of public financing for campaigns could run out of money before surviving its first mayoral race.

Interim City Clerk Randy Autio estimates that the “Open and Ethical Elections” fund will contain about $1.4 million in April, when the first payments to candidates are expected. The election will be next fall.

Each person who opts into the voluntary system is supposed to get $1 per registered voter. In the mayoral race, that would add up to about $328,000, though the number of voters might grow before campaign season.

If at least five people choose public financing, there wouldn’t be enough for the mayoral campaigns, let alone City Council candidates.

The city has been setting aside about one-tenth of 1 percent of its general fund budget to pay for the public campaign financing.

Amid a budget crunch at City Hall, councilors are debating what to do.

Which makes you wonder… How the heck, “amid a budget crunch,” could they possibly be considering asking taxpayers to foot the bill to build an arena? (subscription):

City Hall could finance a $344 million events center and hotel complex by imposing a new one-eighth percent gross-receipts tax and by tapping revenue generated by the project — but it would need to find other money for related improvements.

And the city must also be willing to use its existing tax revenue as a “backstop” in case the new tax isn’t enough to pay off the debt, according to a financial analysis by the firm Piper Jaffray.

City Hall would need to find separate funding for about $53 million in related improvements around the project’s Downtown site, such as a canopy over the railroad tracks, plazas, road improvements and parking garages, the report said. City officials say the state government is one potential source for that money, plus some of the city roadwork would have to be done even if the project isn’t built.

The financial overview by Piper Jaffray was presented to the City Council’s finance committee this week. The full council will hear about it in a study session Thursday and in a presentation at Monday’s regular City Council meeting.

Piper Jaffray was hired by the development team designing and studying the feasibility of a Downtown event center and hotel. The work of Piper Jaffray, along with all the other consultants, is being reviewed by an independent team with no stake in the project, according to the city Department of Municipal Development. RBC Capital Markets, for example, is reviewing the Piper Jaffray report.

The city hasn’t decided whether to move forward with the project.

Am I missing something here? What’s there to decide? The City of Albuquerque doesn’t have money to cover current commitments. How in the world can it be considering adding more? Oh wait, that’s right. “City officials say the state government is one potential source for that money.” Only one problem with that logic. The state government coffers are running dry due to the rapidly declining prices of oil and gas.

Bulding an Arena in a Recession

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Chalk this up to one up to absolutely ridiculous (subscription):

Albuquerque’s young, growing population looks strong enough to support a Downtown event center, according to a new consultant’s report.

And if City Hall opts to build one, the WNBA has interest in awarding a team to the Duke City, the study said. The league would want a local ownership group willing to pay a $10 million expansion fee.

The remaining wild card for the whole project, of course, is the tight economy that’s squeezing government revenue.

“In terms of an opportune time to make an investment, if anyone’s liquid enough, these are great times,” Mayor Martin Chávez said. “What we have to be cautious about … is that it doesn’t impede our ability to provide basic services.”

One hurdle is whether the market will support an 11,000-seat event center. The new report by Convention, Sports & Leisure International says the market characteristics are “very favorable.”

The report was conducted as part of a series of studies examining the feasibility of a $400 million plan to build an event center and hotel in Downtown Albuquerque, near the Convention Center and railroad tracks. The mayor and council haven’t decided whether to go forward with the project.

Well, if they have any sense, they’ll determine NOT to go forward with the project.

Streetcar Back on the Table

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Not that long ago, we were all able to breath a collective sigh of relief as the Mayor’s Streetcar had died a timely death. But, it looks like the Streetcar is back on the table (subscription):

Albuquerque should focus on building a modern streetcar system along Central Avenue between Downtown and San Mateo if it decides to proceed with the project, according to a consultant’s report.

That stretch of the city is the best bet for a successful start to the system, the presentation from Leland Consulting Group said. Demographics and market forces in the area would support the project, the group said.

The presentation was provided Tuesday afternoon to a City Hall task force studying transportation options in Albuquerque. Here’s a look at what was said:

* The streetcar system could draw about 5,000 riders a day on the Downtown-to-San Mateo segment.

* Each streetcar can carry up to 100 people, though the cars can be linked together to serve up to 200 people.

* The capital cost for launching the system is likely to reach about $106 million on the recommended segment, or about $28 million a mile, the presentation said. Annual operating costs would run about $3.9 million.

* Revenue from extending the life of a quarter-cent sales tax, Tax Increment Development Districts, naming rights, advertising and other sources could fund the project. Only a fairly small portion of the revenue generated by the sales tax would be needed for the streetcar system in some scenarios.

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.

Sure, the consultant said 5,000 people per day, but overall, we’re talking about the same people every day. Now, I’ve been to Portland and used their streetcar system. So, it can be honestly argued it will be used by tourists and provide a tremendous economic benefit to those businesses on the route. Great. If they want the benefit, then they should be willing to pay for it, and let the rest of us off the hook.

The Beginning of an Unsettling Trend

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Year after year, Mayor Martin Chavez has been spending with reckless abandonment. Last year, it became clear that his fiscal irresponsibility was finally catching up with him. This year the projected budget shortfall for Albuquerque is more than double what was predicted last year (subscription):

A recent budget forecast estimated the city would face a $50 million shortfall next year if no budget adjustments were made. And that was before the mayor announced 5 percent raises for firefighters and double-digit raises and other financial incentives for police to boost recruitment— expected to cost around $10 million altogether.

But Chávez says not to worry: The city can pay for it all by holding the line on other expenses.

“At the very first sign of (an economic) slowdown, we stopped filling positions,” Chávez said.

The $50 million projected deficit is based on many assumptions, such as incremental increases in most expenses. Instead, city programs will see a “lack of growth,” Chávez said.

Am I the only one who finds it hard to believe they’ve got it under control when deficits continue to increase?