Voters overwhelmingly rejected Albuquerque Public Schools’ two mill levy and one proposed bond questions that would have raised real property taxes by around 5 percent. Had all three initiatives passed, they would have generated $900 million for APS over six years to help implement the district’s capital improvement master plan. The first failed ballot initiative, for $190 million, was to repair and maintain 142 aging APS schools.
The biggest factors that contributed to the defeat of the three initiatives were the very real public perception that the elected APS board and the APS administration is wasting taxpayer money and resources on projects and facilities not helping students. Another perception is the APS administration is top-heavy with management paid enormous salaries and plagued with mismanagement resulting in extensive waste of resources.
APS is considering placing another tax levy on the November ballot strictly for maintenance and repairs to schools.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller took no position and did not support the three APS ballot measures. Candidate Keller had advocated for funding for APS after-school programs. Faced with a $40 million deficit, Keller broke his promise not to raise taxes without a public vote.
Mayor Keller has submitted the “2019 Decade Plan and General Obligation Bond Program” to the Albuquerque City Council, which lists over $800 million worth of taxpayer-funded bond projects for the next 10 years. All the funding is not voted upon at once, but in increments every two years. The City Council will place $127 million of the projects on the November ballot for final voter approval.
Over $53 million is being proposed to be put into community facilities that includes:
• $13 million toward the historic Rail Yards property through 2029.
• $11 million for various projects at the Albuquerque Museum over the next decade.
• $7 million to a new APD southeast substation at Kathryn and San Mateo.
• $7 million for a year-round homeless facility.
• $5.5 million for the International District Library.
• $5 million in funding for Family & Community Services Section 8 Affordable Housing.
• $2.8 million for Community, Health, Social Services Centers.
• $2.5 million for a new exit off I-25 to Balloon Fiesta Park.
The City Council has power to totally reshape and change the Keller administration’s 10-year plan to conform to councilors’ own priorities for their individual districts. The Albuquerque City Council is expressing concern on how to spend the $127 million in bond monies and what should be submitted for a public vote for approval.
Seven of the nine councilors voted to fund the disastrous $130 million ART bus project with no public vote. In 2015, the same councilors approved $63 million over two years using revenue bonds to build pickleball courts, baseball fields and the ART bus project down Central, bypassing the voters.
APS desperately needs tax funding for maintenance and repairs as much as the city needs general obligation bond funding for capital improvement projects, but it is not a sure bet that voters will go along with both on the same ballot.
It does not take a political rocket scientist to figure out that voters in November will in essence be asked to decide between building a homeless shelter, a community library, fund museum projects, make road repairs and clean up the Albuquerque Rail Yards versus providing funding to maintain and repair aging and deteriorating APS public schools.
If the general obligation bond package does not pass in November, the mayor and the Albuquerque City Council need to be held accountable and, more importantly, be prevented from reverting to the old and very bad financing scheme of revenue bonds to get what they want and ignore the public.
Mayor Keller, the City Council, the APS School Board and APS administration need to confer with each other and come up with a winning game plan to ensure all measures are successful in November.