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Mayoral candidates argue over taxes, job creation in debate

Santa Fe might just become known as the munchie capital of New Mexico if mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales has his way.

As a standing-room-only crowd stuffed the Fogelson Library auditorium on Monday, Gonzales drew chuckles, then immediate applause for his one-word answer, “Yes,” to the question of whether he favors legalizing marijuana.

Opponent Patti Bushee offered a longer reply to the question.

“I think we should decriminalize it,” she said. “Stop wasting money arresting people. That’s crazy. But I would say, and you wanted a yes or no, I’m still waiting to see what will happen. I don’t want any unintended consequences when it comes to driving under the influence. Generally, we have so many issues around addiction in this part of the world that I have my own concerns. I can’t really give you a yes or no. I can tell you decriminalization, absolutely.”

Fellow candidate Bill Dimas has said he will not participate in the series of forums for the nonpartisan race, which will be decided March 4. He said the forums more often than not are sponsored by special interest groups and partisan political organizations and include “planted” questions from the audience intended as softballs for favored candidate and to ambush others.

Julie Ann Grimm of the Santa Fe Reporter and former Reporter editor and current radio host Julia Goldberg moderated the forum that was also sponsored by ProgressNow NM.

Toward the end of the forum, the candidates were given the opportunity to ask each other questions, and Bushee continued her oft-repeated theme of the last-minute budget deal tax compromise worked out by the state Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez. It will start phasing out “hold harmless” subsidies to local governments that were aimed at helping them survive the 2004 elimination of gross-receipts taxes on food and medicine.

“The reasons given for the $80 million (over 15 years) loss to the city due to the corporate tax giveaway passed last legislative session, which you supported, by the way, has been to say that you will create green jobs,” Bushee said to Gonzales, who at the time of the tax compromise was the state’s Democratic Party chairman. “How many green jobs have been created?”

Gonzales first addressed the tax compromise.

“I wasn’t there as part of the voting any more than you were there as part of the vote,” he said. “What I did was stand by (Sen.) Peter Wirth and (Rep.) Brian Egolf, who for years have fought to extend our economy and close the corporate loophole. We lost 7,000 jobs during the recession. We cannot afford to bypass any kind of legislation that creates even a single job for people that live here in this community.”

As for job creation, Gonzales didn’t come up with an exact figure.

“It’s what I’m doing at New Mexico State right now (as a member of the board of regents), where we’re retrofitting the campus and taking $7 million to put into reducing the energy costs at New Mexico State University,” he said. “Now the city has started that; 20 percent of your buildings are under renewable energy. I think we can grow it to 100 percent.”

Creating local jobs, however, Gonzales said, starts with the youth.

“Creating sustainable high schools so that we teach our kids the trades when it comes to working in a green economy,” he said. “Understanding how to develop and build homes in a green fashion is something that we need.”

Gonzales questioned Bushee in a similar vein.

“In the next election, would you go out and campaign against them for the votes they took in the last session when it came to the tax cut,” he asked, referring to Wirth and Egolf.

“That would be absurd,” she said.

Bushee then added: “You keep trying to hide behind our estimable senator and representative. I’ve had discussions with Sen. Wirth and Rep. Egolf. My question to you previously was about the quantifiable number of green jobs.”

The tax issue, she said, is one that’s going to hurt the city.

“I’ve got letters that you wrote lobbying for the corporate tax giveaway as a bipartisan effort that was going to create all these jobs,” Bushee said. “I have yet to see those jobs manifest. I have seen Intel let go 400 jobs since then. I understand the importance of film to our economy. I understand what Peter Wirth was attempting to do. But what I am telling you as a someone who is going to lead this city forward is those operating dollars, the $80 million over 15 years, that loss is just devastating to the city of Santa Fe.”

It’s going to take time and effort to make up for that loss, she said, drawing her own applause with her response.

“We’re going to have to work hard to make up that difference,” Bushee said. “There are so many services that I would like to see redirected to the south side of town that I need to pay for somehow.”