It’s Official! I’m In!

Sunday, April 2nd we held our Campaign Kickoff event. It was a wonderful event and I was thrilled to see all of the support and the excitement for my campaign. There’s a lot of work ahead, but I know that we can face the rigors and the challenges of the campaign and that we can and will prevail!

At the kickoff I shared with everyone my vision of what Albuquerque was, the challenges it faces, and what I’ve done to address those challenges as a commissioner. We can build a safe, prosperous tomorrow.

Albuquerque – A Special Place from Wayne Johnson on Vimeo.

 

When Does $8 million = $30 million?

How do you fill an $8 million budget deficit? If you’re Bernalillo County the answer is simple – impose $30 million in new taxes!

On March 28th, the Bernalillo County Commission will take final action on its latest tax increase, an increase that will impose an additional 3/16ths of a cent tax on every purchase made in the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

If passed, gross receipts taxes in the City of Albuquerque will go from 7.3125% to 7.5% an increase of 13% since 2010.

So how did we get here?

Back in 2013, the state legislature granted cities and counties additional taxation authority to make up for lost “revenue” due to the phase out of the “hold harmless” payments which were begun in 2006 to make up for lost “revenue” from the removal of the gross receipts tax on food and medicine.

Simple right?

In other words, the lost taxes to cities and counties from food and medicine gross receipts were paid for by the state until 2013 when the legislature decided that the state budget could ill afford continued “hold harmless” payments to their local brethren and started a 15 year phase out of payments.

As they did back in 2005 when this whole mess began, the 2013 legislature bought off… or rather cut a deal with local governments that would allow them to impose their own replacement taxes to make up for lost “hold harmless” revenue from the state.

The only problem is that the legislature gave local governments 6 times the taxation authority necessary to make up the difference.

In 2015, the Bernalillo County Commission – over my objection – chose to impose 3/16ths of a cent tax that generates approximately $30 million in new “revenue” to replace the $10 million of “hold Harmless revenue” from the state.

Now, the Commission is considering sticking their hands back into your pockets to grab the rest of the $60 million they didn’t get the first time around.

The argument from county management is that we need additional “revenue” to be able to continue to provide basic services – an argument I do not buy and this is why.

Last May, Bernalillo County was looking at a $17.7 million budget deficit. We were able to bridge that gap in a long and tedious Commission meeting. It was hard work, but we owed it to the public to find a way to live within our $248 million means… and we did.

The good news is that this year’s deficit is just $8 million and the county has made progress in reducing operational expenses. However as the very existence of a deficit shows, we’re still not where we need to be.

This is where staff hits the easy button.

It’s easy to have the Commission impose a new tax. It’s easy to say “it’s just 19 cents on every $100.” It’s easy when imposing a new tax generates a $22 million windfall.

Raising taxes is always government’s easy way out. Unlike private businesses, Bernalillo County can make each and every one of us pay more for almost everything we buy, every time we buy it, in order to make up for its own financial condition and/or mistakes.

The simple fact is you can’t tax your way out of a spending problem and I cannot and will not support balancing the county budget on the backs of an already overburdened public.


This editorial was published by the Albuquerque Journal under the title “When does $8 million = $30 million?” March 28, 2017

Santolina

A failure to plan is a plan to fail. From small family businesses to large corporations, leaders realize that you have to know where you’re going and have an idea how to get there. Rarely is that path is set in stone as shorter or better paths may present themselves. But you do have to have a plan.

The Santolina Level A Masterplan is one such plan. Like all plans, the Santolina Level A plan will require further refinement in order to meet changing conditions and future concerns.

Common concerns raised at the 13 public meetings held on the Santolina plan are: Water Use, Sprawl/Traffic Congestion, Public Financing, and Jobs to Housing Ratio.

While each is legitimate, it’s important to remember that the Level A plan is but the first step on a journey, not the end of the line.

Approval would not grant the developer permission to begin building. It would simply define where commercial, retail, residential, open space, schools, roads, and other infrastructure would be placed should market demand meet projected growth.

Prior to any development and the issuance of permits, the landowner would need additional approval and the further refinement included in a Level B or C plan. Each would have to go through the same public process and answer many of the same questions.

There’s been a lot said about public financing or TIDDs.  The truth is the Level A plan under consideration does not include any form of public financing or TIDD. Further, approval of the Level A plan does not make it any more or less likely that the developers would receive a TIDD nor does rejection guarantee that the developers couldn’t receive a TIDD sometime in the future.

The specter of a TIDD is primarily a distraction used to whip up opposition to the project and is not a meaningful part of what is a land use discussion.

Lack of jobs on the Westside has been a chronic problem. Unlike previous developments that focused primarily on housing, Santolina dedicates land for large-scale businesses not just homes and sets a goal of 2 jobs for every home.

Granted the goal of 2 jobs per home may never be reached, but even if half of the goal is achieved, Santolina will have almost twice the current jobs to housing that currently exists on the Westside.

The first step in creating jobs is having the space for them. Santolina has that space.

There are those who believe that the only kind of “good development” is in-fill development. While there is a place for in-fill and parts of the city and county would benefit, in-fill development is not the only kind of beneficial development.

As currently zoned, the land that comprises Santolina can be developed. Simply put, there could be almost 14,000 homes – each with its own well and septic system.

If you’re concerned about water, and sprawl, the Santolina Masterplan provides a more attractive alternative to piecemeal development. The plan describes necessary infrastructure for a traffic system that minimizes congestion and for a water/wastewater system that the ABC Water Utility Authority maintains it can support.

And if Metro Area growth meets projections, the question will be where water is consumed not if it will be consumed.

It’s said when you have the facts argue the facts. When you have the law argue the law. If you don’t have either, argue the process.

The county’s review process has been extensive. While the process could have been less confusing, there have been 13 public meetings with at least one to go, and countless hours of staff work over almost two years.

To say that we are proceeding without ample public input is simply not accurate. And those councilors and board members who would weigh-in on a county land use decision, are and would be doing so without the benefit of hearing all sides.

The county commission must decide whether or not to allow a landowner to put their property to what they believe is its highest and best use. Thus far, opponents have not provided an alternative – they’ve just said no.

Passion and an intense desire to stop new development in Bernalillo County simply isn’t enough for the commission to deny a property owner their property rights regardless of who that property owner might be.


The preceding was published by the Albuquerque Journal on June 14th, 2015 under the title “Santolina proposal has shown merit” and can be found here.

Poor Decisions

There’s a television commercial that features four scared and pursued teenagers who choose to hide behind a curtain wall of chain saws instead of heading for the running getaway vehicle. While the teens take refuge behind the chainsaws and the creepy “killer” looks on, the announcer says “if you’re in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. It’s what you do.”

The horror movie, along with the requisite poor decisions, made an appearance at the October 14th Bernalillo County Commission meeting.

Taking refuge behind the chainsaws were none other than Commissioners O’Malley, Stebbins, and De La Cruz. What they were running from was the reality of the county’s budget.

For the first time since creating the county’s $36 million reserve, rising expenses, flat revenue, and poor investment decisions, are forcing the Commission to dip into its reserves. And not just a little bit.

The FY15 budget was $24 million short. So after closing the FY14 books, the Commission was forced to move two thirds of its reserve fund into operations just to balance the $248 million budget.

You’d think that tapping the county reserves just to stay alive would have sobered these Commissioners and they’d be reluctant to go on a spending spree.

Of course, you’d be wrong.

In addition to the $24 million, the Commissioners behind the chainsaws voted to spend an additional $800,000 on social service contracts and pad their own discretionary funds with an additional $250,000 to play with – all from county reserves.

When there have been available funds that didn’t require depleting county reserves, I haven’t had a problem using excess carry-over funding to support community events, neighborhood organizations, educational programs, and a whole host of other small capital and service projects.

However, when you have a $24 million budget shortfall and have to deplete 2/3rds of your savings to make ends meet, discretionary funds should be the first budget casualty regardless of the “good” those funds have done in the past.

Our primary concern as Commissioners should be protecting core and mandated services like Law Enforcement, EMS and Fire, jail operation, and infrastructure. These are the reasons we have governments in the first place and they should take precedence over everything else the county does.

But our intrepid Commissioners weren’t done yet.

Upset about facing opposition to their little scheme from Commissioner Talbert and myself – who correctly pointed out that this was fiscal folly – the trio stripped the discretionary funds from our two districts and divvied it up among themselves.

Talk about arrogance!

I had planned to return those funds to the reserve from whence they came and Commissioner Talbert had pledged a similar course of action. But because of the shameful actions of the Commission majority we were denied even the barest amount of fiscal sanity in a budget that closely resembles a developing horror movie.

You are probably thinking that $250,000 out of a $248 million budget doesn’t sound like much and it isn’t – unless you understand what it truly signifies.

Democrats on the Bernalillo County Commission steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the current financial situation and seem incapable of showing the kind of financial discipline that families have been forced to endure for the past six years.

Unless they change course and do so now, they will be facing the real horror of a $24 million deficit with insufficient reserves to tap, as soon as next year.

Make no mistake, they’ll be looking to you to save them. You can bet they’ll be raising your taxes and they’ll be blaming everyone else for their fiscal misadventures.

While county staff squeeze their budgets, forego raises, defer maintenance, leave vacancies open, and implement a whole host of other “efficiencies,” their so-called “leaders” continue to spend as if nothing is wrong and nothing has changed.

This isn’t leadership… it’s abject denial.

Leaders make hard choices. Leaders remember who they work for and who pays the bills. And leaders are the first to make the sacrifice they are asking those who follow them to make.

It’s too bad that there are too few of them on the Bernalillo County Commission.

—– The preceding opinion piece was published October 20, 2014, by the Albuquerque Journal under the title “Bernco Commission Dems Lack Fiscal Discipline”. You can read it here. —–

Mocking The “Taxpayer Protection Act”

Last week I had a little fun with my colleagues on the County Commission. You see Commissioners Stebbins, O’Malley, and De La Cruz are hell bent on raising the cost of utilities for every county resident and have decided to name their tax grab the “Taxpayer Protection Act.”

[Side Bar]
No kidding! An ordinance that would take more money out of your pockets is somehow supposed to “protect” you. At least when the mob extorts protection money from you they provide protection you from them. 

Somewhere George Orwell and Ayn Rand are laughing their posteriors off watching their predictions come true.
[End Sidebar] 

Commissioner Stebbins noted that I had named a resolution the “Ratepayer Protection Act” last year – which is true. The difference is that the “Ratepayer Protection Act” actually protected ratepayers by prohibiting the county from reaching into their pockets – something the “Taxpayer Protection Act” most certainly does not.

Having a background in journalism, I decided to come up with a name that would be more accurate. And since the “Taxpayer Protection Act” does nothing of the sort, it seemed appropriate to come up with at least ten possible names and here they are:


Top Ten More Accurate Names for the “Taxpayer ‘Protection’ Act.”
10. The… Protection Money Act
9. The… We Need More Money Act
8. The… Bernalillo County Utility Tax Collection Act
7. The…  Illegal Revenue Enhancement Act
6. The… It’s not legal but we hope the Legislature will make it legal someday so we always put it on our legislative agenda Act.
5. The… Commission Can’t Live Within Its $250 MILLION a Year Means Act
4. The… It’s Not Our Land But We’ll Tax You Again for it Anyway Act
3. The… Ratepayer Screw Job
2. The… Soak the Poor Act
1. The… We Know You Can’t Live Without Water, Power, and Electric So We Know You’ll Pay Act

You can read more about the evening’s discussion in the Albuquerque Journal (read it here – subscription).

Dependence Day?

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form more perfect Unions, establish social Justice, insure domestic Prosperity, provide for common Healthcare, promote Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Government Subsidy to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Of course, that’s not what the preamble to the United States Constitution says but you’d be hard pressed to know it these days. “We the People” have become more and more dependent upon a government that is simultaneously more powerful and distant – two conditions the founding fathers sought to avoid.

Last week I spent some time corresponding with a person who was very critical of my vote against the two 5% water rate increases set for 2016 and 2018. After a few not very kind words impugning my integrity and courage, we settled into a rather nice discussion about disagreement, the founding fathers (specifically Adams and Jefferson), and why in the world would I be a part of an organization whose very existence I disagree with.

[Sidebar]
The Water Authority is one of many quasi-governmental agencies that perform governmental functions. It has its own taxation authority and can directly determine how much you’re going to pay for water. The utility is arguably much better run now than it was under the City of Albuquerque. My concern is that despite a more efficient and effective operation, the Water Authority has an awful lot of power that generally receives little scrutiny unlike its former life under the city – making the potential for abuse that much greater.
[End Sidebar]

One of the things that I’ve noticed about people is that when they get a new job or join a group, they often take on the identity of the group and their objectives become those objectives that are good for the group itself. It’s a very human thing to do and it’s a very dangerous thing to do if you’re membership in the group is predicated upon representing people who are not in the group.

It can be very difficult for those who are elected and who represent and work for other people to resist the temptation to join “the group.” But as elected officials, that is exactly what we’re expected to do.
There are really two reasons that we have and are becoming more dependent on government. The first is that “We the People” are demanding more and more from government who then takes more from “We the People” to pay for it. The second is that dependence is good for government – but not so good for liberty.