Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque voters will decide this fall if the city should invest in a new multiuse soccer stadium using millions of dollars the project’s supporters have suggested would not otherwise be available for crime-fighting efforts.
The narrative, which recently spread across social media, skirts the fact that the money tied up in the proposed $50 million stadium bond could legally be spent on public safety – or many other basic city services – should the bond fail.
If voters approve the stadium bond on the Nov. 2 ballot, the city would borrow $50 million by issuing bonds to design and build the venue. The city would pledge gross receipts tax revenue to pay off the resulting debt – payments officials estimate will run about $3.2 million annually for 20 years.
GRT is the tax assessed on the sale of goods and services. It’s more flexible than some revenue streams; the city can use it for capital expenses, like buildings, as well as for basic city operations. GRT is the lifeblood of the city’s general fund, which covers police officer and firefighter salaries, upkeep of parks, road maintenance, animal shelters and more.
But amid criticism from some residents that the city has much greater needs than a soccer venue, a pro-stadium political action committee recently produced an informational graphic drawing distinctions between the money the city would use for the stadium and the money it uses for fighting crime.
The committee, NM For Art & Sport, so far is funded entirely by New Mexico United, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. United is the professional soccer team that would be the new stadium’s primary tenant through a lease agreement with the city.
The PAC’s facts-versus-fiction stadium graphic – which supporters have shared on various social media platforms – states as fact that “The money that is used to fight crime in Albuquerque comes from the general fund. The money that would be used for this stadium is bonded for capital projects. Not spending money on a stadium does not mean more money is available to fight crime.”
It is true that the tax revenue the city would use to pay off a stadium bond was until this summer spent on debt related to other capital projects.
But the city recently paid off some of those bonds, freeing up about $4 million annually, Albuquerque Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said. The city could borrow money for a stadium and use those newly realized savings to make the yearly payments – a strategy to fund the stadium without raising taxes.
The City Council in August advanced that plan, approving legislation that puts the $50 million gross receipts tax bond out for voter approval and tying the money to the stadium project.
David Carl, communications director for United and chairman of the pro-stadium PAC, defended the graphic’s message based on that vote.
“On Aug. 16, City Council voted 7-2 to allocate these funds to capital projects,” he wrote in a statement to the Journal. “We stand by our factually accurate statement that not spending money on a stadium doesn’t mean more money is available to fight crime.”
He contends that the stadium could eventually generate new funding for public safety.
But if the $50 million stadium bond does not pass, the money is not forever stuck in capital projects, even if it has been there before.
It could conceivably go to the general fund where it could pay for the city’s operating costs, including police; or it could remain as a funding source for capital projects.
That would be up to city leaders.
Should the bond fail, reallocating the money would require going through “the complete Council process again,” Bhakta said in an email, noting that both the council and mayor would have a say.