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Editorial: Why are New Mexico and Albuquerque charging extra if you stay home?

If you’re wearing a mask, maybe nobody will notice you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. However, actions speak louder than words.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller have both been aggressive in urging people to stay home as much as possible to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Yet gross receipts taxes are being levied and sent to the state on home-delivered groceries that are tax-free when purchased at stores, and the city is charging residents $25 if they go online to get a residential parking permit (yes, that means they can park their car in front of their own house). But if they slog down to City Hall and do it in person, there is no charge.

What? How do those actions square with official admonitions to limit outings? Answer: they don’t.

It is safe to assume that many elderly people – those most at risk of COVID-19 – are having groceries delivered. And for this safety precaution they are being slapped with gross receipts taxes that range from 5.5% in rural Catron County to more than 9% in Española. The GRT in Albuquerque is 7.85%, which translates into real money for somebody on a tight budget.

A panel of government experts, including state Taxation Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke, noted the problem last week as it looked at financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and various stay-at-home orders. She said the state is keenly aware of the practice from public complaints but noted state law only exempts groceries purchased “at” food establishments.

Of course the delivered groceries come “from” food establishments that are simply collecting the tax and passing it on to the state.

The panel noted that charging the tax on home-delivered groceries is undercutting incentives to stay home during the pandemic – as the governor has repeatedly urged/ordered people to do.

If Lujan Grisham’s serious about her stay-at-home order, she should step in and direct the secretary to put a stop to this tax collection by following a more sensible reading of the law. And if local governments grouse about the lost income, well, shame on them.

Meanwhile, down at City Hall in Albuquerque, the parking division has decided to start charging $25 per vehicle for residential parking permits – which are absolutely essential in certain neighborhoods like those around UNM and Expo New Mexico. It was met with howls of protests by people who point out that “on-street parking is not a luxury for us.” Peter Swift and Elen Feinberg told Journal Road Warrior D’Val Westphal that in the Spruce Park neighborhood small driveways and one-car garages are typical. “On-street parking is essential for many residents, visitors and for tradespeople who rely on residents to provide a temporary pass while they are working.”

The city backed off the new charge – but only for those willing to venture Downtown to get a permit. The city said online transactions will take “a small fee to support the online service. Those who prefer to come down to the Parking Division and pick up their permit may still do so and will not be charged.” Really? Myriad venues offer tickets at no extra charge when you order online and choose the print-at-home option.

And the “small fee” is $25.

So at the same time the mayor is dispensing lectures on safe pandemic practices, his Parking Division is penalizing residents who would like to follow his advice and not personally venture down to City Hall.

Yes, parking is an enterprise fund that is supposed to pay for itself. And at the moment there isn’t a lot of parking meter revenue in boarded-up Downtown and not many vehicles to ticket.

But that’s no good reason to penalize people for wisely using online services to get a parking permit, especially during a pandemic. Nor should people be penalized for ordering grocery delivery rather than walking up and down the aisles.

The extra online charge and the tax on food deliveries are ridiculous. No matter which side of the mask you’re talking out of.

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.