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Council Skips Vote; Paseo Goes to Ballot

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Perhaps even city councilors grow tired of arguing.

The City Council voted 6-3 late Wednesday to avoid another debate on whether to immediately authorize $50 million in bonds for the Paseo del Norte interchange at Interstate 25. Instead, they withdrew the proposal before it was formally debated, meaning the bonds will go on the Nov. 6 ballot for voter approval.

A similar bill fell one vote short of passage earlier this year, and it was clear nobody’s position had flipped since then.

“We can debate this issue all night,” Councilor Ken Sanchez said. “Nothing’s going to change.”

What’s less clear, however, is the fate of a voter-driven initiative to raise Albuquerque’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. Supporters gathered signatures from thousands of registered voters this summer to get the proposal on the ballot.

But councilors voted unanimously Wednesday to withdraw an election resolution that would have formally put it on the ballot. Several councilors said they don’t believe any action on their part is necessary to put the minimum wage on the ballot.

Instead, the city and county clerks can do it automatically, they said, because the process is outlined in the City Charter. The groups involved in the petition drive agree.

City Clerk Amy Bailey, however, said earlier this week that “state law requires that a governing body pass an election resolution in order for me to have any kind of election.”

Time is running out, if an election resolution is indeed required. County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver must certify the ballot on Tuesday of next week.

Toulouse Oliver said Wednesday that she will consult with her attorneys about whether the wage proposal can go on the fall ballot automatically.

As for the Paseo bonds, Councilor Dan Lewis said it was time to focus on campaigning in favor of voter approval of the project, rather than debating again whether to authorize the bonds without an election.

It takes support from seven of nine councilors to authorize issuing bonds without taking them to voters. But three councilors — Isaac Benton, Rey Garduño and Debbie O’Malley — have held out for a public vote.

Those three joined Lewis, Don Harris and Ken Sanchez in favor of withdrawing the bond authorization Wednesday. Lewis said the latest proposal aimed at getting seven votes only happened after questions arose about the legality of putting the bonds on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Now that those questions are resolved, a second attempt at immediate authorization wasn’t needed, he said.

Councilor Brad Winter disagreed. He joined Trudy Jones and Michael Cook in voting against withdrawal.

Winter said a straight up-or-down vote is how the council resolves matters, not speculation over how councilors expect their colleagues to vote.

“The best way to promote this (project) is to vote on this bill tonight,” Winter said. “I very, very much disagree with your stand on this.”

Harris said a vote wasn’t needed. He said he didn’t like the way people were trying to apply political pressure to get one of the three holdouts to flip.

“You don’t get people to change their mind by pressuring them,” Harris said. “I disagree strongly with the three councilors, but they have their reasons. I think they’re principled ones.”

Sanchez said the bill was “dead on arrival” because councilors hadn’t indicated any willingness to change their votes.

The withdrawal came after Mayor Richard Berry, just last week, urged the council to move forward with authorization of the bonds.

“I strongly disagree with (Wednesday’s) council action that will cost taxpayers time and money on this important and much needed project,” Berry said in a written statement. “I look forward to the November elections so we can get this project moving forward with the help of voters who are tired of the safety hazards and never ending delays at Paseo and I-25.”

City officials have said they might have to share in election expenses if Paseo were to go on the fall ballot.

Also Wednesday, city councilors voted 8-1 in favor of waiving Albuquerque’s voter identification requirement for the Nov. 6 election. State officials said the move was necessary to put Paseo or any other municipal item on the general-election ballot.

That’s because the city requires voters to present a photo ID at the polls, but the state doesn’t.

Cook was the lone “no” vote against the waiver.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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