ABQ stadium bond question is botched - Albuquerque Journal

ABQ stadium bond question is botched

New Mexico United plays the Hartford Athletic at Isotopes Park this month. A ballot question seeking funding to build a new stadium is flawed. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

If you find yourself confused about exactly how the city would pay for its proposed multiuse soccer stadium, you are not alone.

Not even the ballot for the Nov. 2 election has the details right.

The ballot – used since early voting began Oct. 5 – contains inconsistent language about the nature of the city’s $50 million stadium bond proposal.

It initially describes the project financing as “gross receipts tax revenue bonds.” That is accurate; the city plans to pledge some of its GRT – a tax assessed on the sale of goods and services – to make annual payments on the $50 million it would borrow for the stadium.

But the wording changes in the spot where voters actually mark their ballots.

Voters have the choice between filling in an oval that says they are “for general obligation bonds” or an oval indicating they are “against general obligation bonds.”

GO bonds are a different financing mechanism paid off with property taxes.

While Mayor Tim Keller’s administration has said it would pursue the stadium only if voters approved the money this fall, GRT bonds – unlike GO bonds – do not technically require voter approval.

That makes the ballot mistake less problematic, officials say. It is more of an advisory matter.

“The question on the ballot as written does not pose a legal issue because it will advise the City regarding the voter’s perspective on whether the City should issue bonds to build a multi-use stadium,” City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. said in a written response to Journal questions about the mistake.

The Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office, which is conducting the election, referred questions to County Attorney Ken Martinez.

Martinez said he did not know where the breakdown occurred but believes it might be because a GRT revenue bond is unusual, while GO bond questions are far more common. The city puts GO bonds on the ballot every other year seeking voter approval for infrastructure projects such as fire stations, roads and parks. The Nov. 2 ballot, in fact, features 11 city GO bond questions totaling $140 million.

“It may be the first time the question’s been presented this way, so that there’s no prior language about (gross receipts tax revenue bonds) in the system,” Martinez said. “I don’t know, and I’m not trying to blame anybody.”

He said that it is likely too late to correct the ballot because voting already has begun but that he’s made a note to himself to ensure the election system has another, accurate template available for potential future GRT revenue bonds in the future.

How is the city planning to fund the stadium?

The city has been spending about $13 million a year on existing GRT bond debt but recently paid off some of those bonds. That freed up about $4 million per year, which officials say they could apply toward new stadium debt if the voters approve the $50 million bond.

The new stadium debt would require payments of about $3 million annually for 25 years.

The New Mexico United soccer team – which would be the stadium’s primary tenant through a lease with the city – has pledged to pay $900,000 to the city annually to use it. The team also has said it would pay $10 million upfront toward the stadium’s construction.

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