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Shortly after taking office in 2018, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller signed a City Council-approved tax hike intended to boost spending on police and other public safety measures.
Now one newly inaugurated city councilor wants to repeal it.
Dan Lewis is proposing the city nix the 3/8 of 1% gross receipts tax officials implemented four years ago, saying it’s a financial crutch the city does not need and reversal would put money “back into the pockets of hard-working Albuquerque citizens.”
“Notwithstanding the economic challenges faced by the City and our community and during the COVID-19 pandemic, with support from the Federal Government, the City has managed to evade layoffs and other financial hardships and appears well positioned to continue to fund critical services,” his legislation says.
The current city budget presumes the tax – assessed on the sale of most goods and services – will bring in $53.6 million this fiscal year, though Lewis said recent revenue trends indicate it could actually yield $73 million. While the legislation initially required 60% of the proceeds to fund public safety, that requirement expired two years ago. Keller’s office, however, said money still goes to those efforts.
“That tax passed on an 8-1 bipartisan (council) vote and it supports law enforcement,” mayoral spokeswoman Ava Montoya said.
But Lewis said he does not believe the bill will jeopardize public safety.
The tax reversal is just one of four bills Lewis is pursuing as he begins his second stint in office. Lewis previously served two terms representing Northwest Albuquerque but left the council in 2017 to run for mayor, losing to Keller. He successfully campaigned last fall to retake his old position, ousting his successor, Cynthia Borrego, in the Nov. 2 election.
On Monday he also announced bills that would:
• Bar the city from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for the municipal government workforce.
• Gut mayoral authority during a public health emergency.
• Direct the city administration to consider and, “to the extent advisable,” push to renegotiate the terms of its police reform-minded settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
He said the bills address important community concerns.
“I want them to go through the (legislative) process,” he said. “I fully expect the councilors and the (Keller) administration to take a good, hard look at these bills to understand them and to consider the outcomes and certainly to listen to the public.”
Lewis’ DOJ legislation cites U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s 2021 guidance for the monitors that local and state governments pay to oversee federally-mandated police reforms. An independent monitor has overseen the Albuquerque Police Department since 2015.
Garland recommended that agreements limit monitor fees and go through a termination hearing after five years. While new rules do not apply to existing agreements like Albuquerque’s, Lewis’ bill directs the city to review the new guidance and potentially petition to reopen the Court Approved Settlement Agreement, specifically to address Garland’s recommendations “regarding capping independent monitor fees and assessing termination of monitorships after no more than five years.”
Several city councilors the Journal contacted Monday night said they needed time to review the bills before commenting, though Council President Isaac Benton said he opposes any attempt to stop the city from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for its workforce. Benton, in fact, already has introduced legislation that would require the city’s public safety employees to get vaccinated or take weekly coronavirus tests.
“I’m on the opposite side of that one,” said Benton, whose bill is slated to go through the council’s committee process.
Lewis said the bill answers concerns he’s heard from police officers and firefighters about a potential vaccine requirement.
“Many of them I know said they would quit (if vaccines were mandated),” said Lewis, who noted that he has been vaccinated but has a “big issue” with mandating them for city workers.
His legislation would also revoke most of the mayoral public health emergency authority the City Council added at the onset of the pandemic. The council in March 2020 created a new “public health” category in the emergency powers ordinance, allowing the mayor to take actions like closing places of mass assembly and ordering retailers to limit the sale of certain items on a per-person-per-day basis. Under Lewis’ rewrite, the mayor can still proclaim a public health emergency but is limited to issuing public health “advisories or recommendations.”
Keller’s office fired back late Monday.
“Councilor Lewis has never served in public office during a pandemic, so he doesn’t have that first-hand experience,” Montoya said.
Lewis, meanwhile, said he was disappointed “the mayor would quickly dismiss these proposed solutions to the serious problems that this city is facing.”