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Albuquerque is home to the state’s largest airport, its largest tourist event and its only Level I trauma center.
Each fall, the University of New Mexico attracts a few thousand freshmen to its Albuquerque campus – most of them from within the state.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller argues that the city’s welfare matters to the entire state, and he is pleading with those who control New Mexico’s purse strings for help addressing crime and homelessness – even contending that the state’s largest city has not historically received a commensurate share of funding for capital projects.
“Albuquerque needs funding and support from the State in order to tackle the challenges the City is facing,” Keller recently wrote to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative finance leaders. “Albuquerque’s success is New Mexico’s success, and with this legislative agenda, our City can help lift up the entire state.”
With the state capital pot significantly bigger than during the past several years, Albuquerque is pushing for big-dollar help with what it calls its top four “statewide priorities.” The largest is a $34.6 million joint request with Bernalillo County for a major radio system update that would enable law enforcement and other emergency personnel around central New Mexico to communicate.
Driven largely by activity in Albuquerque, New Mexico has the nation’s highest per capita rate of property crime and ranks second for violent crime, according to 2017 federally compiled data, the most recent available. Numbers released by Albuquerque officials more recently show some improvement in 2018, but crime remains a chief concern among leadership and citizens.
Keller has also prioritized initiatives to help the approximately 5,000-8,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city. Albuquerque is seeking $28 million in state money to build a centrally located 24/7 shelter that would also have on-site personnel to help guide people to social services and, ideally, permanent housing.
The mayor said that as the state’s population center, Albuquerque is “going to be a repository for the state’s homeless problems and addiction problems,” and that leaders in Santa Fe should provide a significant financial response.
“Albuquerque does not get its fair share of the statewide priority money,” Keller said in a recent meeting with Journal editors and reporters.
He said the city has not received significant capital funding since 2012, when the Legislature and then-Gov. Susana Martinez approved nearly $30 million for the Paseo del Norte/Interstate 25 reconstruction. The city still covered more than half of the $93 million project with $50 million in voter-approved gross receipts tax revenue bonds.
A former state senator, the mayor said rural lawmakers “will rightly argue” that capital money goes to rural areas that do not have an economic base like Albuquerque’s. But he notes that the city of 560,000 residents is currently suffering.
“I’m also asking for help with humility,” Keller said. “I’m not saying ‘We’re Awesome Albuquerque, and we’re going to push you around.’ I am saying ‘We are desperate, you’ve got to help us.’
“This is our fight in the Legislature. I don’t think the city has won this fight in 20 or 30 years, (but) I’m hoping this year one of these projects can at least be a statewide priority, and it should be.”
He cited the Legislature’s 2018 approval of up to $30 million in funding – from taxes collected on auto sales – to prevent a potentially devastating brine well collapse in Carlsbad as an example of the state helping communities facing crisis. However, Legislative Finance Committee staff noted that project might have had broader implications as the state – which had permitted the well decades ago – may have been liable in the event of a disaster.
The Albuquerque metro area has about 911,000 people, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. About 560,000 reside in city limits, meaning the city of Albuquerque alone is home to slightly more than a quarter of all New Mexicans.
Between 2011 and 2018, the city of Albuquerque received about $39 million in state capital outlay – roughly 7 percent of the statewide local appropriations total, according to figures provided by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration.
However, that does not include appropriations to other public entities inside and around the city, including Albuquerque Public Schools and the University of New Mexico.
It also does not include the major appropriation for the Paseo del Norte intersection, which was routed through the state Department of Transportation.
The cities of Santa Fe and Las Cruces – with estimated populations of 83,776 and 101,712 – each received about 3 percent of the local appropriations pot, according to DFA’s figures.
Sen. Carlos Cisneros, a Questa Democrat and vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said “statewide priority” allocations usually mean investments in state-owned facilities, and that decision-makers should not favor the bigger cities at the risk of neglecting the smaller ones.
He called the process for capital distribution fair, saying individual lawmakers each get a slice of capital money they can allocate as they see fit, and Albuquerque legislators can put it toward Albuquerque projects.
“It’s done in the most equitable mechanism we’ve got,” Cisneros said. “If we gave it all to the large metropolitan areas, then nobody else would get anything.”
Rep. Javier Martinez, an Albuquerque Democrat, said he does not consider only state-owned facilities worthy of “statewide priority” status, but rather anything with significant impact, like water system upgrades or big road projects in communities that need them.
Decision-makers have to look all around the state when allocating money, he said, but “I think some of the city’s projects definitely would fall within that statewide definition – certainly.”
The Legislature will have approximately $300 million in capital outlay money this year, Cisneros said, split evenly among the House and the Senate, and then divided up among members of each chamber.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham should have at least $300 million in her pot, he added.
It’s that sum that can really help address major needs, Keller said. His administration has met with both Lujan Grisham and many lawmakers in recent months to make the city’s case, he said.
“They (executive and legislative branches) sit down and negotiate (details), so you have to convince both,” he said.
Martinez said he and other legislative colleagues from the city have discussed potentially pooling some of their funds to help with Albuquerque’s big requests, and have talked about the law enforcement radios and homeless shelter. But he said they have to consider the smaller project needs in their individual districts, too.
“Our expectation is the governor’s office also makes the investment in the statewide priorities, including the ones in the city of Albuquerque,” Martinez said.
Asked whether Lujan Grisham considered Albuquerque’s projects “statewide priorities” and if she planned to help fund them, her spokesman said it was too early to commit to anything.
“Numerous projects from all across the state have been submitted for outlay consideration, and the analysis and review process is still ongoing as to which of them will receive allocations from the governor’s office,” Tripp Stelnicki said in an email, adding that decisions would be made “soon.”
Albuquerque’s other top “statewide priority” requests include $15 million for the redevelopment of the Rail Yards in the Barelas neighborhood and $7.5 million for Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta traffic improvement projects, including a New Mexico Rail Runner stop and “slip ramp” access to Interstate 25 from the frontage road just south of Balloon Fiesta Parkway.
Keller said he will push to make up for anything the city does not get from the state in this fall’s Albuquerque capital improvement bond election.
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