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 V.13 No.5 | January 29 - February 4, 2004 

Council Watch

What a Difference a Day Makes

Guillermo Figuero, musical director of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra.
Singeli Agnew
Guillermo Figuero, musical director of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra.

After enduring the gooey dishonesty of Bush's State of the Union speech, it was heartening to spend the next evening, Wednesday, Jan. 21, seeing Albuquerqeans debate in good faith the emotionally fraught and technically complex WIPP shipment bill. Council President Michael Cadigan was absent and Vice President Eric Griego chaired the meeting.

Chief Financial Officer Gail Reese presented the city's five-year financial forecast. She emphasized repeatedly that the city did not have a projected $10 million deficit, but a projected $10 million gap between revenues and expenses that would require budget adjustments.

A bill authorizing over $77 million to both refinance airport bonds at lower interest rates and pay for new construction passed unanimously, as did a bill allowing corrections officers to vote on retirement issues.

Griego won deferral until Feb. 2, of a bill suing the state over water issues, hoping to get a better sense of what might happen during the state legislative session. Also deferred was a bill further defining land use policy based on the Planned Growth Strategy.

IssueCouncil's TakeReporter's Take
1. Life is Short; Art is Long
A bill to be introduced in the state Legislature allows municipalities to vote on a quarter-cent increase in gross receipts to fund the arts. Saying he had been approached by several legislators, Griego sponsored a memorial expressing support for the state bill. Speakers said that Albuquerque arts organizations are receiving far more requests than they can fulfill, particularly for programs in schools, and that all avenues of current public and private funding for non-profits are drying up.
Councilor Debbie O'Malley said, "Art is something we can give our children that no one can take away from them." Councilor Craig Loy said he'd support transferring money from the 1 Percent for the Arts program. Councilor Sally Mayer said she supported the arts but didn't want taxes to go up. Griego said the bill only expressed support for the state Legislature bill allowing communities to vote. The memorial passed 4-3, Mayer, Loy and Councilor Tina Cummins opposed, Councilor Brad Winter excused.Somebody once said that it takes a thousand mediocre artists painting to produce one artist on the level of Picasso. The definition of "mediocre" is endlessly debatable, but the principle is correct. Artists--good, bad or mediocre--don't spring up in isolation, and the practice of art feeds both artist and audience. Not to mention the city's coffers. One speaker cited The Rise of the Creative Class, a book placing Albuquerque as eighth on a list of U.S. cities whose growth is fueled by creativity.
2. Life is Short, Half-Lives are Longer
After its highly publicized introduction and deferral, Councilor Miguel Gomez's bill tightening safety measures for transporting radioactive waste through Albuquerque came to a vote. The bill called for keeping the current double wall Tru-Pac waste containers instead of changing to a single wall container; barring shipments during rush hour; notifying the city in advance of shipments coming through town; and delaying any shipments as long as there is space at the Nevada test site to store the waste. Griego abstained and left the podium during the discussion.

Gomez said he had a meeting scheduled with an assistant D.O.E. supervisor, who told him the matter had been assigned to "somebody at a high level." Gomez said he had companion legislation to take the issue "to a legal realm" but didn't think that would be necessary.

Three speakers supported the shipments, citing the D.O.E.'s layers of safeguards and saying that materials more dangerous than plutonium traveled through the city every day. Seventeen speakers opposed, citing everything from radiation exposure in Japan to lack of medical preparedness in Albuquerque to sloppy D.O.E. shipping procedures. Mayer moved to delete the section delaying waste shipments until the Nevada repository is full, saying "it went beyond what the council should be telling the D.O.E." The amendment passed 6-1, O'Malley opposed. Heinrich, who worked at a Missouri reactor, mentioned the "D.O.E.'s very poor track record in maintaining the public's trust." Loy, who worked in a uranium mine, mentioned the benefit of radiation for treating cancer. O'Malley said transporting nuclear waste through the city differed from moving a doublewide mobile home. The amended bill passed unanimously.After listening to the various arguments and digging into more off the record, it seems to me that transporting waste in Tru-Pac containers is about as safe as anything in this uncertain world, and that some of the opponents' arguments have little relation to the specific issue. But however small the risks, I support this bill completely. D.O.E. agreements, such as the one not to put high-level waste in WIPP, bear an unsettling resemblance to federal treaties with Indian tribes--they're honored right up to the moment they become inconvenient. And a Washington energy establishment that brings us that nuke-exploiting, conservation-wrecking orgy of fossil fuel consumption known informally as the Bush/Cheney/Tauzin/Domenici energy bill should never, ever be trusted.
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