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Editorial: All ABQ councilors should be asking for spending details

Two Albuquerque city councilors were performing due diligence when they asked questions about a $1 million appropriation for the Black community at the June 29 meeting.

Yes, they should have been more careful to avoid any reference that could be deemed paternalistic.

But especially at a time when many New Mexico cities and counties are cutting staffing and services due to the pandemic, when gross receipts tax revenue is drying up, it is absolutely appropriate to ask what the money will be spent on.

And we still don’t have an answer.

City Councilor Trudy Jones asked whether the funding would go toward loans or grants, who would administer it, and whether it would support businesses or housing and more. City Councilor Cynthia Borrego asked what the city expected in return and how the expenditures would be reported back to the Council. All were standard questions to ensure fiscal accountability – taxpayers deserve to know how their hard-earned dollars are helping people and making a positive difference for the community.

However, the president of the One Albuquerque Fund told councilors the foundation hadn’t developed a specific plan. Charles Ashley III said the One Albuquerque Fund board would first convene members of the Black community to determine how best to apply the money based on existing needs.

Councilor Klarissa Peña, who introduced the appropriation, correctly noted the city already spends tax dollars in support of the Native American and Hispanic communities. An investment in the city’s Black community is a logical, and much-belated, extension of those programs. But as Jones noted, the public deserves to know how people can apply, who would get money, how much, what for, under what qualifications and who would administer it. We don’t need $1 million sitting idle.

Our local governments have a history of acquiring money with good intentions and then not spending it for the stated purpose. Remember the $20 million-a-year gross receipts tax increase the county shoved through in 2015? It was supposed to deliver a crisis triage center for those struggling with mental health issues. We’re still waiting. And the $14 million general obligation bond voters approved in November for the Gateway Center to serve the homeless? Eight months later, the initiative is stuck in a working group with the city still unsure of a single-site or multisite model.

And in the meantime, real people with real needs continue to do without.

After an hour of debate, Jones was the only councilor who voted against the $1 million appropriation, which passed 8-1.

Taxpayers deserve accountability, and members of the Black community deserve programs that work.

Here’s to the One Albuquerque Fund board delivering a real plan. When it comes to spending tax dollars, particularly during a pandemic and related economic crisis, good intentions are not enough.

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.