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Editorial: ABQ Council should let gas tax die tonight

Mayor Tim Keller was right to veto a measure last week that would have put a 2-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax on the ballot in 2022. And if four of our nine city councilors can hang tough tonight, the highly regressive tax will die the death it richly deserves on the heels of a job-crushing pandemic.

The City Council voted 5-4 at its May 17 meeting to put the tax on the ballot, with the revenue slated for street and roadway system improvements.

But Keller vetoed the legislation Thursday for all the right reasons. “The Duke City is climbing out of one of the worst economic crises in our lifetime,” the mayor said in a statement. “This is just not the time to entertain a gas tax while families and businesses are recovering from the pandemic, and when financial forecasting is uncertain.”

Gas taxes, however incremental, hurt the people who can least afford them – like teenagers working a part-time job after school, food delivery personnel, the single mom who has to leave work to take a child to a dentist appointment on the other side of town and small businesses reliant on vehicle travel like landscapers.

And Albuquerque is the envy of other municipalities as it already has a dedicated tax-revenue stream for road infrastructure as well as transit, trails and bikeways, the ¼-cent transportation tax, levied on most sales in the city limits.

But City Councilor Isaac Benton, who sponsored the gas-tax proposal, isn’t giving up. After Keller’s veto, Benton said he would try to find a sixth vote necessary to override Keller’s veto at tonight’s council meeting.

Let’s hope there’s nothing in that tank.

For working Albuquerqueans, we ask Council President Cynthia Borrego and Councilors Don Harris, Klarissa Peña and Lan Sena – who voted against Benton’s gas-tax proposal in May – to hang tough. You four collectively have the votes to sustain Keller’s veto and protect people’s pocketbooks. You’re fighting for the little guys, and we hope you win tonight.

Who knows how long it will take New Mexico’s economy to recover following the COVID-19 pandemic? Meanwhile experts are predicting increased gasoline prices are here for awhile. Councilors Borrego, Harris, Peña and Sena and Mayor Keller understand asking voters to raise taxes on the working poor – even if it isn’t until 2023 – would be bad public policy. It’s unfortunate the other city councilors don’t.

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.