Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Berry Is A Man In A Hurry When It Comes To His Buses And More On The Rio Rancho Mayor's Bond Dilemma 

Mayor Berry is a man in a hurry when it comes to turning the first shovelful of dirt for a controversial rapid transit plan for a nine mile stretch of Central Avenue, part of which would run through the Nob Hill shopping district. He's in a hurry to turn dirt because with each passing day more controversy ensues, with now over 150 Central Avenue businesses opposed to what some of them are fond of calling "Berry's Boondoggle."

But the plan receive a girt boost this week President Obama included nearly $70 million in find for it in his annual budget. The project is expected to cost over $100 million with the city shouldering about $10 million of the cost. If all this sounds remarkably familiar to the "street car" that Dem Mayor Marty Chavez proposed and was derided for by Mayor Berry when he ran againt Chavez, that's because it is.

Chavez was also looking to spend in the $100 million ballpark for his transit legacy project that became one of the reasons he lost to Berry in 2009. But flash forward and both Republicans and Democrats on the city council are supportive of the Berry buses and that has the Alligators in full hypocrisy watch. One of them writes:

I absolutely love the blatant hypocrisy of conservatives and Republicans who went bananas over Mayor Chavez's streetcar plan Where is all that conservative and GOP outrage and concern over wasteful federal spending and what this will do to our national debt? Well, if it's Republican, I guess it's all right.

For many the plan seems out of sync with the times. The city has been flat on its back economically for years. Only this week we lost 150 good paying aerospace jobs and earlier we forfeited 400 Rio Rancho call center positions. In the middle of an employment crisis and when one of the largest front-page advertisers in the local paper is Bekins moving company, there's no shortage of critics who say Berry hasn't just taken his eye off the ball, he's on the wrong playing field.

The $100 million grand plan would tear up Nob Hill and narrow traffic through the neighborhood that the biz folks say would take a big bite out of their bottom lines. One major landowner on Central is so upset we would not be surprised to see a lawsuit to stop the project and slow down Berry who wants to start building the project as early as May. Never mind that fast buses already come barreling down Central Avenue every few minutes, many of them mostly empty.

What could ABQ do with $70 million in federal cash? How about devoting it to improving the quality of the workforce for the jobs of this century that are bypassing the town?

President Obama is probably oblivious to all this. The $70 million is just another line item in a $4.2 trillion budget. But the President could do better for his own legacy and the progress of the city, if he did not lend his name to what amounts to a legacy project that Berry can brag on but which will make little difference for our future.


You might see it as a distinction without a difference but Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull wants us to know he "personally" supports raising taxes to finance needed road repairs in the city, but as mayor he is not taking an official position in support of the $9 million bond issue that is on the ballot March 1. Early voting starts today.

Hull talked with us after we blogged Tuesday of his apparent back down from his initial position of supporting the bonds and the accompanying small property tax increase homeowners would incur. Hull says "it is clear to anyone" who has heard him talk about the bonds that he is for them, but he says he has received advise not to openly endorse the bonds in his capacity as mayor. We told him that that argument holds water in a partisan contest, but the bonds are not a partisan election. Hull says his decision to stay officially neutral on the bonds--but personally supportive--has nothing to do with a possible Republican primary election down the road in which any elected officials who supported a tax increase would be accused of GOP heresy. Hull says he has no future political  plans that are inhibiting him from giving a hearty endorsement of the bonds. However, his name has been mentioned in GOP circles as a possible lieutenant governor contender.

Republican Mayor Berry also refused to publicly endorse a tax increase recently, although it was clear he wanted the gross receipts tax hike to finance improvements to the BioPark. So while citizens made a firm voting decision, the mayor of ABQ was able to have his cake and eat it, too.

 Most mayors of the past have gladly endorsed general obligation bonds loudly and publicly--even if they meant a tax increase. But we live in an era where the radical Republicans contend that any tax increase for any reason is unjustified and anyone in the party who wants to advance better not support a wee tax hike, even if it's to improve desperately needed roads.

The bottom line is that Mayors Hull and Berry may have found a way to hang back on vital public issues without alienating their radical base, but in doing so they have also diminished the power and relevancy of their offices.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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