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Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Streetcar Project Gets Tax Boost
By Jim Ludwick
Journal Staff Writer
City councilors late Monday approved a plan for launching the development of a streetcar rail line by extending the life of a transportation tax until 2020.
The quarter-cent tax, originally approved in a public referendum, had been scheduled to expire three years from now.
Councilor Brad Winter urged councilors to put the issue on a ballot if they want to extend the duration of the tax. "If we don't, it's a sign of arrogance," he said.
"I'm going to stand up for the taxpayers on this issue. ... This needs to go to the voters," Winter said.
Councilor Don Harris said there's no justification for failing to take the time for public debate and balloting.
"I don't think there's any such thing as an emergency rail system," he said.
Only Winter, Harris and Michael Cadigan voted to put the issue on a ballot. The same three councilors voted against the overall legislation, but the proposal was approved 6-3.
Mayor Martin Chávez, in a statement issued Monday night, said that in years to come, "this will be seen as an historic vote for the first phase of an exciting transportation project that will transform Albuquerque."
Councilor Martin Heinrich, who sponsored the legislation along with Isaac Benton, said it's "the beginning of something great."
Benton said the streetcar system "will be an asset to Albuquerque long after we are all gone."
Councilor Ken Sanchez said it's "a promising endeavor for the city of Albuquerque. ... It's our responsibility, as leaders of the community, to make the tough decisions."
Councilor Debbie O'Malley said the streetcar system will be "a major revitalization tool."
Councilor Craig Loy won approval of an amendment calling for the tax to expire in 2020. Before he proposed the amendment, the legislation would have made the tax permanent.
Under the plan, the first phase of the streetcar line would extend along Central from Washington Avenue to Atrisco Plaza just west of the Rio Grande. State funds would be sought to build a connection to the airport.
In addition to the transportation tax, a Tax Increment Development District will be established along the streetcar corridor. It will help provide funding for the streetcar project from the increase in tax proceeds that results from improvements in the area.
The transportation tax would continue to provide funds for road projects, trails, bikeways and the bus transit system.
When the tax was proposed in 1999, it was expected to provide $23 million annually. However, because of economic growth, it now provides $34 million a year.
Chávez has said that's enough to finance the first phase of the streetcar line while still paying for all the projects that were promised to voters in 1999.
The measure now goes to Chávez for his signature.