Friday, September 18, 2009
Councilors: Tax Won't Last Forever
By Juan Carlos Rodriguez
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque city councilors are scrambling to reassure voters that a proposed $37 million-a-year transportation tax won't last forever.
Council President Isaac Benton and Councilor Ken Sanchez held a news conference Thursday and said they plan to introduce a resolution at Monday's council meeting clarifying that the quarter-cent gross receipts tax, which will be on the Oct. 6 ballot, will expire after 10 years.
The tax was first approved in a special election in 1999 and is up for renewal this year because of a 10-year sunset clause in the original ballot question.
But the ballot question councilors approved for the extension this year does not include an expiration date, meaning the tax could continue indefinitely.
Benton said that when councilors voted on the ballot language for the tax, enabling legislation was introduced at the same time but was not acted upon. That legislation contained a clause limiting the tax to 10 years.
"The will of the council is that the tax will have a 10-year sunset clause," Benton said.
Sanchez said since the tax won't be a new burden, he hopes voters will approve it.
"We feel the infrastructure tax is vital and critical to the city of Albuquerque," Sanchez said. "If we lose that transportation tax because of issues like this, it will be a huge loss to the residents of the city."
The tax would continue to be used for road maintenance and rehabilitation, trails for biking and other activities and transit services.
Benton acknowledged that it might be hard to pass a tax in the current economic environment, but he said people should remember the money will keep contractors working.
"It's always a tough time, during a down economy, to try to pass a tax," Benton said. "But it's all tied in to a healthy economy."
The tax has emerged as a topic in the mayoral campaign, with candidate Richard Berry contending the tax is not necessary because the city has other unspent money that could be used instead. Mayor Martin Chávez, who is running for re-election, says Berry is wrong and the tax is needed to avoid cuts in service.
Berry does not support the tax, while Chávez and candidate Richard Romero do support it.