By Carolyn Carlson
Voters will decide whether to use $50 million in bonds to rebuild the I-25 and Paseo del Norte interchange.
Albuquerque city councilors Isaac Benton, Rey Garduño and Debbie O’Malley stood firm on Monday, March 26. They refused to authorize $50 million in bonds to help pay for renovating the interchange.
They six said they wanted to allow city residents to decide if that is how the project should be financed. The bonds were first discussed by councilors a week earlier but the vote was put off until a special Council meeting.
Their six opponents on this issue—Councilors Ken Sanchez, Mike Cook, Brad Winter, Trudy Jones, Don Harris and Dan Lewis—argued it was their duty as elected representatives to authorize the bonds immediately.
Even though those in favor of the rebuild held the majority, the Council had to come up with a supermajority of 7-2 to move forward with the bond plan. This is because councilors would have to bypass voters, who cast their ballots against $25 million in bonds for a Paseo and I-25 overhaul in October. The cash was tied to money for a sports complex.
“You are taking $3 million off the top of the operational budget every year for 25 years to pay for this,” O’Malley said at the meeting. Usually large projects are funded by capital outlay money—not taken from the city’s operational budget, which funds day-to-day city services.
Paseo del Norte is a state road and ultimately the responsibility of the Department of Transportation. The Legislature approved $30 million for the project. Bernalillo County is asking its voters to pitch in $5 million in the next election as well.
The Council decision came a week after an anonymous group put up a digital billboard at the interchange in question, urging people to contact the three councilors. “It was a cowardly act to put our names out there,” O’Malley said. Mayor Richard Berry also publicly asked constituents to call the Council offices in an effort to change their minds. About 25 people turned up at the special meeting, with a little more than half urging councilors to bypass voters and approve the bonds immediately.
O'Malley asked Berry’s top administrator Rob Perry why the mayor did not come to the meeting if it was such an important issue. “I see bungling by this administration and this mayor,” she said, raising her voice. She took Perry to task, saying it was the administration's fault by insisting on pairing the project with a doomed sportsplex in the last election.
O’Malley went on to say Perry committed fraud when he submitted a federal transportation grant application on Monday, March 26. On that application, she pointed out, Perry indicated the Council had approved the funding before the meeting was held and the issue could be considered.
A disappointed Berry has said the bond question will be on the November ballot but will be for $60, not $50 million, to make up for the federal grant the city couldn’t get.
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