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Council passes tax hike on ‘difficult’ vote

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque city councilors voted Monday evening to raise the city’s gross receipts tax rate by three-eighths of a percentage point to address a $40 million deficit in the city’s budget and the public safety crisis.

“For me, this vote tonight will be one of the most difficult votes that I make as an Albuquerque city councilor, but I firmly believe we have no other choice,” Council President Ken Sanchez said.

Sanchez, a Democrat, sponsored the legislation along with Republican Councilor Trudy Jones. It passed by an 8-1 vote with Democrats Isaac Benton, Cynthia Borrego, Pat Davis, Diane Gibson and Klarissa Peña and Republican Don Harris also supporting the measure. Councilor Brad Winter, a Republican, cast the dissenting vote.

If signed by Mayor Tim Keller, the increase will likely go into effect July 1.

Jones said after the vote that the increase is expected to raise around $51 million, although the state is sometimes delayed in paying out the revenue.

“If we can get $30 (million) to $40 million in the first nine months, we’ll be in good shape,” she said.

 The Albuquerque City Council votes 8-1 to increase the gross receipts tax rate during its Monday meeting

The Albuquerque City Council votes 8-1 to increase the gross receipts tax rate during its Monday meeting. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Councilors voted 5-4 in favor of an amendment that stipulates no less than 60 percent of the revenue generated by the tax increase will go toward “the city’s public safety budget goal priorities” and the remainder to general municipal purposes.

“The public is demanding we do this,” said Davis, who introduced the amendment. “But they’re not demanding that we just create a slush fund for pet projects.”

Sanchez, Peña, Gibson and Benton voted against the amendment.

Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby expresses his support for the tax increase that's aimed in part at improving public safety

Albuquerque Police Officers Association President Shaun Willoughby expresses his support for the tax increase that’s aimed in part at improving public safety. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

While members of the city’s police department, which is a facing a 400-officer shortage, and fire departments spoke in favor of the proposed tax hike, many members of the public who addressed the council at Monday’s meeting were unconvinced.

Some expressed distrust and frustration over how the city has handled taxpayer money in the past, especially with the controversial and troubled Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.

“It’s a very short walk south of here to see this council’s squandering of our money: a bus system that addresses a need that didn’t exist,” Paul McKinney said. “Now you want us to entrust you with another $55 million of our money through a three-eighths of a percent gross receipts tax.”

But others personally affected by the city’s crime epidemic spoke out in favor of the increase.

“All residents deserve action to tackle the challenges our city is facing and we all deserve to feel safe here in Albuquerque,” said resident Connie Maestas, whose Taylor Ranch home has been broken into twice.

Keller, who promised during his campaign that he would only support tax increases in dire circumstances and that any increase would go before voters, said last week the increase was the “least worst” option to address the anticipated $40 million deficit.

“Tonight, City Council was faced with a choice to own up to the financial realities or kick the can further down the road on public safety,” Keller spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said in an emailed statement. “Their veto-proof and nearly unanimous bipartisan vote will help give our first responders the resources required to keep our streets safe and protect our kids. While we believe voters should have an opportunity to weigh in, we respect the City Council’s decision.”

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