Reading the paper on Saturday (June 10) morning, one couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board taking six city councilors to task for having overridden the mayor’s veto of the council’s FY 2018 budget just one day after the Journal ran a story on the city having the highest per-capita rate of auto thefts in the country.
This city is in a public safety crisis and the mayor for the past seven years has done his level best to either ignore it or explain it away. He’s done everything but the one thing that truly matters and that is putting his money where his mouth is.
The council’s budget, passed by an 8-1 margin, was vetoed by the mayor in favor of funding for the city’s risk reserve and the mayor’s pet initiative (and future political talking point?) of stashing away a little bit more money into the city’s operating reserve.
In vetoing the council’s budget, the mayor vetoed a budget that emphasized public safety above all else, as it provided $1.2 million for additional Police Service Aides, $1 million for processing sexual assault kits, an additional $250,000 for assistance for the district attorney’s office to help prosecute sexual assault cases as a result of processing sexual assault kits, $1.8 million for new police vehicles, $735,000 for new Rescue 4, $336,000 to fund four new dispatchers in the fire alarm room, as well as a significant longevity program for the most experienced police officers.
In addition, the bill provided almost $1.8 million in funding to dozens of social service, economic development and cultural programs which generate jobs and economic development, enrich our community, and help to provide alternatives to the street for at-risk youth, as well as $400,000 in additional funding for the very successful Heading Home program.
Much has been made of the so-called “glitches” in the budget, which are fixable and in fact will be fixed before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. The mayor has been quick to point out that withdrawing funding from the city’s operating reserve or utilizing a hiring freeze may result in the city being put on a ratings watch.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a red herring as “something unimportant that is used to stop people from noticing or thinking about something important.” In this case, the mayor is desperately hoping to distract the public from noticing that he’s been asleep at the switch for the past seven years, and that his proposed budget did very little to emphasize public safety.
What many people don’t know is that the city has been in a hiring freeze since mid-April, and that it is being used to make up for a potential shortfall of operating revenue. That hiring freeze, imposed by the mayor on all city departments, is virtually the same as the one that he now decries in the council’s approved budget.
The fact of the matter is this: With the promise of a new administration this December, the city has an opportunity to reset and clearly communicate to the next administration that the council wants the next four years to start off on a new foot – one in which public safety is the city’s top priority.