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In defense of the proposed Albuquerque gasoline tax

The recent op-ed by the Rio Grande Foundation about the proposed municipal gas tax contains several points and distortions that merit clarification and response.

1) “The proposed gas tax adds 2 cents per gallon onto the combined state and federal 35.4-cent tax.”

The proposed tax will bring the total tax for gasoline in Albuquerque to 39.28 cents per gallon, significantly lower than the national average of 49.50 cents per gallon.

2) “The well-off can easily afford a 2-cent tax due to their additional wealth and ability to buy new, efficient cars, but the disadvantaged must pay the same tax while earning less and filling their tanks more.”

It is true that lower-income families cannot afford the newest cars, however the used-car market includes many fuel-efficient vehicles. The proposed increase is minimal and worth the improvements that would be made to city roads and related improvements to our quality of life. As of 2017 it is estimated that American drivers use on average 656 gallons of gasoline per person per year. If we assume two adult drivers per household, the proposed tax of 2 cents would increase household gasoline cost by only $26.24.

3) “A gas tax would also have negative effects on Albuquerque’s economy.”

The tax would actually have a positive effect on Albuquerque’s economy in that an addition of at least $4.8 million each year would be available for road construction projects, not accounting for potential of bonding larger projects using the revenue. This would create jobs for city businesses and workers, with additional construction sector-related revenue for the city. Those workers in turn would spend their earnings, creating even more retail sector business.

4) “As the ordinance is written, the tax would be used to ‘rehabilitate transportation systems.’ This could mean directly supporting or allowing existing dollars to be diverted to the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit program and city bus system.”

As I’ve repeatedly stated, it was never my intent that the revenues generated be used for any portion of the current rapid transit project. Rather, it is intended that it be used for non-ART-related road rehabilitation projects in accordance with our Complete Streets policy in areas throughout Albuquerque that are in great need of such improvement. I intend to amend the language of the proposal to specifically disallow use of the tax revenues for the ART project.

5) “…much of the revenue will be allocated to ‘outdated’ roadways that are functional but for some reason or another are not compliant with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. … Adding a new tax onto the backs of local motorists now in order to comply with a law passed back in 1990 is ridiculous.”

It was certainly my intent that a portion of the municipal gas tax revenues be used to rehabilitate roads, sidewalks, etc. to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act in conjunction with critical road, streetscape and paving modernization unrelated to the ADA, as required by federal law. It is prudent, not ridiculous, to accelerate our present compliance with the ADA, since non-compliance exposes the city and taxpayers to civil legal liability for not ensuring persons with disabilities are protected from discrimination. Non-compliance could also compromise our ability to receive state and federal highway grants.

6) “Even if the proceeds were dedicated specifically to roads, it is worth questioning what the city will receive in terms of ‘bang for the buck.’ That’s because a significant portion of the money generated by the tax will be spent on the creation of a collection and auditing apparatus.”

The city will need to hire three full-time employees for collection and auditing of the revenues, as well as equipping them with the necessary tools to do so. A fiscal analysis estimates the annual amount of these administrative functions is $228,336 for the first year and $186,300 per year thereafter, amounting to only 4.7 percent of total collections at most.