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City Council overrides mayor’s budget veto

Mayor Richard Berry

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The budget battle between Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and the City Council came to an explosive head Monday, with councilors overriding the mayor’s veto of the spending plan.

Berry vetoed the council’s $534.1 million budget last week, calling it “a recipe to overpromise and underdeliver.”

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But in the end, the council garnered the required six votes to override the veto. In doing so, the council majority rejected a compromise substitute budget worked out by Berry and City Councilors Brad Winter and Pat Davis.

Councilor Klarissa Peña complained that the compromise budget had not received the public input that the budget approved by the council had received.

“The council did pass a budget. There are some issues with it, clearly. No doubt about that,” said Council President Isaac Benton. “But I think the corpus of what we passed is definitely defensible.”

The override means the budget the council approved in May will go into effect on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. But the council will likely make changes to the spending plan at its next meeting, and those changes will go to Berry for consideration.

Albuquerque City Council President Isaac Benton, left, listens while District 5 Councilor Dan Lewis make a point during the debate on reversing Mayor Richard Berry’s veto of the city budget. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Voting for the override were Councilors Benton, Peña, Ken Sanchez, Dan Lewis, Diane Gibson and Don Harris. Trudy Jones joined with Davis and Winter in voting against it.

The Mayor’s Office blasted the vote in a statement.

“For seven years, the Berry administration has worked on a bipartisan basis with the City Council to pass budgets that were balanced and commonsense,” Berry spokeswoman Rhiannon Samuel said.

“Unfortunately, tonight that ended when six city councilors, five of whom are up for election, voted for a budget that they admitted is utterly broken. Chalk this one up to politics – not good government.”

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Prior to the vote, Davis argued that since the council initially approved the budget, the revenue picture has become clearer.

“We simply can’t afford everything. I can’t imagine we’d want to put the city on a credit watch,” he said, referring to concerns raised by the administration that the council budget could result in the city’s credit rating being downgraded.

He told the Journal after the meeting that the council budget has a $3 million to $4.5 million hole that needs to be plugged. The council had initially planned to cover $3 million of that through anticipated savings from a proposed four-month hiring freeze, but the Berry administration warned that doing so would place the city’s credit rating in jeopardy.

Several of the councilors who voted for the override noted that the council budget can be amended to fix the “glitches.”

Indeed, Harris said some of the fixes contained in the compromise bill would likely be adopted by the council at its next meeting.

Those fixes include things such as ensuring that the current longevity pay for veteran police officers will remain in place come July 1. The current language in the council bill makes that longevity pay contingent on the city meeting its revenue projections.

Sanchez argued for the override, saying that the council’s budget prioritizes public safety.

Among other things, the council budget sets aside $4 million for longevity pay for veteran police officers, but only if the city meets its revenue projections. The city currently sets aside $2.4 million for police officer longevity pay. The council budget also sets aside enough money for 3 percent raises for firefighters and a 1 percent across-the-board raise for American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees.

The compromise budget had sought to leave the longevity pay at its current level, and it would have provided fire union employees with 1.5 percent pay raises and 1 percent pay raises for all other city employees.

In his veto message, Berry said the council budget leaves the general fund structurally imbalanced, meaning that expected revenues aren’t in line with proposed expenditures. Among the other reasons cited for the veto were that it jeopardized the current longevity pay program for police officers, and that it reduces general fund reserves and the risk recovery fund, which is used to cover lawsuits.

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