Editorial: Proposed stadium PAC's fact vs. fiction deserves a penalty - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Proposed stadium PAC’s fact vs. fiction deserves a penalty

It’s at least worth a yellow card.

The pro-stadium political action committee funded by the New Mexico United soccer team has been pushing a narrative that money tied up in the stadium bond issue on the Nov. 2 ballot can’t legally be spent on public safety – or any other basic city services – should the bond issue fail.

Wrong.

The city’s chief financial officer, Sanjay Bhakta, agrees that should the bond issue fail, the gross receipts tax revenue that would be used to retire the $50 million GRT bond could, in fact, be reallocated to the general fund if the City Council and mayor decide to do so. In that case, the roughly $3.2 million a year for 20 years that would have covered the $50 million stadium bond could go to covering operating costs, including police.

That’s at odds with an informational “fact vs. fiction” graphic from a committee funded by New Mexico United, called NM for Art & Sport, that states, “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.”

That ignores the fact these are bonds issued against Gross Receipts Tax Revenue rather than General Obligation Bonds that typically finance construction of buildings, roads and other infrastructure. GRT bonds are much more flexible in how proceeds can be used.

The City Council-approved ballot measure putting the gross receipts tax bond out for voter approval did, in fact, tie the money to the stadium project. And that’s what would happen if it passes – but not necessarily if it doesn’t.

David Carl, communications director for United and chairman of the pro-stadium PAC (no arm’s length there) defends the position by saying the council voted to allocate the GRT funds to capital projects. “We stand by our factually accurate statement that not spending money on a stadium doesn’t mean more money is available to fight crime.”

It’s worth noting APD isn’t struggling from a budget shortage. But that doesn’t make the statement from the PAC true. The GRT revenue could be a funding source for capital projects or the Council and mayor have the option to reallocate the money for operating expenses.

There are other significant questions the team’s investors haven’t answered, including how long United is committed to staying here and how much it will pay the city for use of the facility. How much skin will they have in the stadium project? And can we please see that in writing?

Comparing this proposal to the Isotopes baseball stadium upgrade, the city had a much firmer commitment before the issue went to voters in 2001.

And when it comes to unanswered questions, there are a couple of major ones on the city’s side of the ledger – namely where the stadium will go, what master planning and parking will be included and where the additional $20 million of the stadium’s estimated $70 million cost will come from. Will city taxpayers be on the hook for that as well?

There is still time for stadium backers and the Mayor Tim Keller administration to shed some light on important questions surrounding this proposal.

They need to – and without repeating the disingenuous approach the United-funded PAC took. Especially if they don’t want that yellow card to be followed by a red one.

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.

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