Wednesday, July 13, 2016

ABQ's Idea Factory: Things That Feel Good But Will They Do Any Good? Plus: Biodiversion? Worry That BioPark Tax Proceeds Could Be Diverted 

There is feeling good and doing good. In ABQ this summer of '16 there's a lot of the former. For example,  the $100 million plus project called ART--largely federally funded and which would send speedy buses down Central Avenue. Then there's the $35 million being spent to put up a new building for the enigmatic Innovate ABQ project. It's easier to see through a steamed window then figure out how that inchoate concept will actually create jobs. And ART is the ultimate example of redundancy, running high speed buses down an avenue that is already crowded with them.

Both expensive, feel good ideas are the brainchild of ABQ Mayor Berry who made his bones in the construction industry which now eagerly awaits spending the $135 million while the public remains in head-scratching mode wondering to what end.

Meanwhile, a nuisance lawsuit that threatens to halt $375 million in construction projects for the ABQ public schools approved by 65% of the voters at a February election makes its way through the courts. The public schools these days get as much respect from the city's economic elite as a rented mule. It has become fashionable among what passes for the business cognoscenti here to kick and berate APS while touting the sex appeal of Innovate ABQ and flatly ignoring the waste of ART.

Given how many businesses continue to sport shrinking profit margins and how the great ABQ economic stagnation goes on and on, the search for a scapegoat makes sense. It may not do any good, but it makes them feel good.

And, no, the irony (hypocrisy?) is not lost on us that those who most tout the miracle of the private markets and critique the inefficiency of the public sector are relying on tens of millions in public funds for ART and Innovate ABQ to find their way out of the economic wilderness. Well, in spite of themselves they are on the right path, they just have the wrong ideas.


Santa Fe businessman and onetime Dem gubernatorial candiate Alan Weber offers some timely advice for the state's business community that it may or may not want to hear:

Stop pretending that making government incompetent somehow helps make business more likely to succeed. A healthy private sector needs a healthy public sector. Business needs government to make the investments only government can make. It needs help solving certain kinds of problems and setting larger goals to guide private sector strategies. An incompetent or feeble public sector only weakens the private sector. . . Stop thinking in silos. Poverty cuts across every category of public policy and private opportunity. . . Fighting drug abuse and making New Mexico family friendly aren’t policies or programs; they cut across every category where we need massive improvement. We have to create strategies that combine these policy areas and use our scarce resources to solve more than one problem with the same investment.


We talked about this possibility during last year's ABQ election to increase the gross crecipts tax to fund improvements to the city's BioPark. Now that the tax has been approved and the cash started flowing in July1, a reader picks up on the story and offers some advice:

Diverting money is a favorite tactic of a Mayor when an administration wants to make sure it gets what a Mayor wants. Voters need to be vigilant and watch what happens to the $250 million dollars (over 20 years) that is slated for the BioPark if there is a $19 million dollar shortfall for the ART bus project if the federal grant is not fully approved by Congress. The Berry administration could go back and redesign the ART bus routes and build bus stops at the BioPark attractions so they can justify diverting money from the BioPark to ART. Also, the Berry administration could reduce the existing BioPark budget by $19 million and divert that money to ART saying the new gross receipts tax is available to make up the difference.

There are eighteen eyes available to keep their eyes open for this--the nine members of the ABQ city council. Will they?

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