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Council Delays Vote on Tax's Future Proposal Would Repeal the Levy

By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
    A tax to help fund development of a streetcar system is still alive, even though councilors have backed away from the project.
    Albuquerque city councilors on Monday postponed action on a proposal to repeal the tax, which would help pay for the streetcar and other transportation projects.
    The proposal is now scheduled for consideration May 21. It would rescind the council's earlier decision to extend a sales tax until 2020 to pay for transportation projects.
    Councilors said taking up the bill in May still leaves plenty of time to repeal the tax extension before it takes effect on July 1.
    "There's not a penny going into the streetcar before then," said Sally Mayer, who asked for the deferral.
    Nevertheless, the move to postpone the bill sparked some intense debate.
    Councilor Brad Winter, who sponsored the proposal to rescind the tax, said the tax extension should go before voters.
    Now that the city has backed away from the streetcar project, he said, it makes sense to repeal the earlier legislation authorizing the tax extension.
    "It has been hanging over the taxpayers' head," Winter said. "We're doing this in disregard to the public."
    Winter, Don Harris and Michael Cadigan wanted to act on the bill Monday.
    Joining Mayer in favor of deferral were Debbie O'Malley, Isaac Benton, Ken Sanchez, Martin Heinrich and Craig Loy.
    Mayer said waiting a few months wouldn't hurt, as the tax legislation doesn't take effect until July 1.
    Heinrich said earlier legislation approving the tax extension also created complex financing districts related to the project. He said it made sense to send the tax extension to the voters, but he didn't want to repeal the entire legislation and lose the financing districts.
    Sanchez said the extension would pay for many road projects, not just the streetcar.
    The debate revolves around a quarter-cent gross-receipts tax approved by voters in 1999. Under terms on the ballot, the tax was to expire in 2009.
    Last year, however, councilors voted to extend the tax until 2020 and use some of the money to develop a streetcar system, mostly along Central.
    The move sparked an uproar from people who said the extension should go on the ballot, as the original tax did.
    Mayor Martin Chávez and councilors have since backed away from the streetcar project, saying it needs more study. The tax extension, however, has remained on the books.