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GRT campaign heating up as vote nears in Rio Rancho

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‘No’ group has more money; ‘yes’ group has more visibility

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Reports filed this week show the group vying to keep the higher education tax unchanged in the Aug. 20 special election has raised more than four times the money than the group that’s campaigning to reduce the tax.

But the group with the most money is weeks behind its rival in reaching out to voters.

Campaign finance reports filed with the City Clerk’s office showed the Committee for Higher Education received total contributions of $10,275 and no expenditures. The rival Committee for a Safe Rio Rancho raised $2,322 and spent $1,253.

The election will ask voters whether they favor reducing the quarter-cent higher education Gross Receipts Tax that benefits the UNM West campus in Rio Rancho to one-eighth of a cent.

Safe Rio Rancho wants voters to say “yes” to reducing the tax. It also supports councilors creating a new one-eighth-of-a-cent tax to generate money for staffing and equipment in the city police and fire departments.

The Higher Education Committee wants voters to vote “no” at the polls, keeping the tax unchanged.

The tax, approved by voters in 2008, currently brings in about $2 million annually. The proposed reduction would cut that to $1 million a year.

The resolution setting the election date passed May 22 and early voting began on Tuesday at the City Clerk’s office, where voters can cast ballots between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday through Aug. 16.

The Safe Rio Rancho Committee has been getting its message out since June via social media and street signs.

The committee’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CommitteeForASafeRioRancho, features photos and video clips, and displays ad-type posts with messages like “Vote For Aug. 20th.” There are also postings seeking donations to the cause, with one reading, “Donate, Help us stamp out false information from UNM.” The group has also been busy planting black-and-yellow signs along city streets that say, “Vote For Police & Fire Aug. 20.”

The Committee for Higher Education’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/committee4highered, went live in recent days. Its message is “Support Education. Vote No” and “Don’t Quit on Our Kids.”

The group hasn’t put up signs yet.

“They have been designed and ordered and they should be appearing next week,” said committee treasurer Bob Gallagher, adding that fliers and a phone-calling campaign would follow.

The Higher Education Committee is headed by former University of New Mexico regent Don Chalmers, who was its biggest donor with a $5,000 contribution. Gallagher, a Rio Rancho businessman and former New Mexico State University regent, donated $1,000.

Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbi Moore gave $500, and former Sandoval County Commissioner Donnie Leonard gave $500 individually and his Albuquerque business Leonard Tire contributed $1,000.

Other contributors included former Sandoval County Democratic Party chairman Thomas Buckner, $100, and the organization’s current chairwoman Marg Elliston, $150.

Most of the Committee for a Safe Rio Rancho’s donations were in-kind contributions. Councilor Chuck Wilkins donated printer ink and paper for fliers, and poles and ties for signs worth a total of $715.

Wilkins sponsored the resolution calling for the special election.

Councilor Mark Scott’s Total Lighting Supply business donated $371 worth of blank signs and wire stands. Scott, along with Councilors Lonnie Clayton and Tim Crum, also support reducing the tax and establishing the new public safety tax.

The RRTP, also known as the Rio Rancho Tea Party, gave a $500 check and the Rio Rancho Firefighters Association gave $250.

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