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Editorial: APS’ $900M question(s)

“Don’t let APS take more of your tax (dollars). None of the increase will go to education or teachers. APS enrollment is down but facilities have (increased)! Make them accountable for the billion-plus they get now.”

“… this tax increase will be on top of whatever Bernalillo County raises taxes to each year.”

Given most of the comments from Journal readers, Albuquerque Public Schools may face an uphill battle convincing voters to approve all three questions on its special-election ballot coming to a mailbox near you.

It should.

Because while APS did an impressive amount of homework, compiling lists and photos and graphics of its capital construction projects past, present and future, it skipped the lessons on tax fatigue and household budgets that are already stretched too thin.

APS is sending voters in its boundaries a $900 million property-tax ask. It’s a mail-in ballot with three questions: One seeks $190 million for continuing maintenance and keeps the tax rate as it is. The other two questions seek $510 million and $200 million for construction and instructional equipment, and would increase the APS mill tax rate close to 20 percent.

The Journal supports the first and regretfully rejects the other two. Here’s why:

If voters approve the first question, property tax rates stay the same and the state’s largest school district will continue to receive about the same amount it has been receiving for maintenance, repairs, remodels, equipment, furnishings and the like. As APS facilities age, that is especially important.

And as those facilities age out, the other two questions would cover the costs of rebuilding. Unfortunately, like a child with a list for Santa, APS is asking voters for funding for 34 projects, everything it believes it needs. And it’s warning voters that it will take another increase in three years to complete all 34 projects. Some have been started; some have yet to be designed.

Had the administration simply followed its example of the maintenance question and continued existing funding rather than asking for an increase, we would have given our support. There’s no question aging schools need replacing. This request is simply asking too much of taxpayers.

APS is seeking a 2 mill property rate increase that puts it at the top of the list of taxing authorities in Bernalillo County. In real money that means someone with a home valued at $220,000 would pay an estimated extra $147 a year. And the increase would affect not only property owners, but anyone who rents or shops, because there is little question that, as in a game of hot potato, it would be passed on. Apartment owners will likely raise rents and retailers will likely raise prices.

It would add to the tax burdens residents are already bearing, which in recent years includes county and city increases in the gross-receipts tax. Tack those increases on top of the taxes for the seven-plus entities (city, county, University Hospital, AMAFCA, etc.) that get a piece of residents’ property taxes, and the city, county and state portions of the GRT.

And don’t forget that many residents already see their property taxes increase annually because state law allows valuations to increase 3 percent a year.

And that may not be all. As the 2019 legislative session kicks off this week, rumors are already swirling about an income tax hike on some and an increase to the gasoline tax.

If all that doesn’t have you mentally checking your bank balance, here are more sobering statistics:

• 1 in 4 New Mexicans is on SNAP, aka food stamps.

• Sixty-seven percent of all private-sector workers in the state have no cash savings for retirement.

Think those folks have any extra cash lying around?

We get it. Superintendent Raquel Reedy speaks from her heart when she says “we are trying to keep those buildings up and provide the best learning environment for our students.”

As well they should.

And it’s true that passage of all three questions would be a boon to our construction industry, and the many jobs these projects will support.

But when too many residents can’t put food on the table or cover a copay for a doctor visit, when their meager incomes have been tapped by recent gross receipts tax increases, can you really expect them to pony up more?

We say no.

Yes, construction costs have skyrocketed, but property taxes have increased because of valuation hikes, meaning APS has gotten more from everyone, every year.

Yes, passage of the questions would add $20 million for much needed school security upgrades. But that’s a minuscule amount compared to the total $900 million ask.

And yes, APS has produced a well-researched and documented wish list. But it’s hard to be convinced that every project is absolutely essential when APS’ priorities on the operational side raise questions. That’s because the district’s spending on administration has increased at a far greater rate than its spending on classrooms.

Funding for back-office administration (business office, human resources, PIOs, etc.) increased by 17.5 percent from 2006-2017, compared to a 7.4 percent increase for classrooms (teachers, coaches, school supplies, counselors, etc.). The district spent more than $100 million on administration in the 2016-17 school year.

APS needs to do what everyone else does who does not have the luxury of raising their neighbors’ taxes to make ends meet. And that’s live within its means.

The Journal recommends a “For” vote on The Public School Capital Improvements Tax Question, which is on one side of the ballot, and “Against” The Public School Buildings Act Tax Question and the General Obligation Bond Question, which are on the other side of the ballot.

 

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

“APS is playing with the math to obfuscate its attempt to give itself a 19 percent increase!”

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