Editorial: Go For What You Know!

The Way Forward Is Through

August March
6 min read
Tim Keller and Lawrence Rael
Mayor Tim Keller and city Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael discuss the future (August March)
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If there’s any overarching theme in development over at the new mayor’s office, it’s one of responsibility: financial, institutional and ethical. Recent forecasts regarding the city budget, municipal expenditures and a projected FY2017 deficit of $5.9 million were released this past week by city economists.

Interestingly and much to his credit, Keller and his team were quick to respond to the yearly city-generated report, in a way that points to effective management of city monies, now and in the future.

But the news itself, particularly the deficit’s potential to affect an already fragile city economic engine, was immediately pounced upon by the media. Some who reported did so blandly, as one might tell tale of another Lobo football debacle—Albuquerque loses again, folks, get used to it. A few journos here
questioned the urgency of the matter; one pundit wondered about the roots of the problem, a matter taken up in this essay.

From the onset, Mayor Richard Berry touted the fiscal responsibility demonstrated by successful small businesses—like those he had run—as a marker of his ability to get Albuquerque on the right track.

Back in 2009, when Berry was first chosen to be mayor—defeating three-time local legend, leader and mayor Martin Chávez—the nation was still reeling from an economic recession that sent many local economies into freefall. Berry’s first administration was confident it could set a straight course away from that chaos.

The day after defeating his two democratic opponents,
Berry told local news media that “I want to take a common sense approach to government. Take my business experience … just roll up my sleeves and try to move Albuquerque forward.”

Berry’s campaign platform and ultimate strategy for reviving the city based itself around some long-held Republican concepts. The overarching idea was that government would be more successful if it was run like a business. This concept was augmented by ideas about privatization of services and catering to the tax needs of the city’s business owning 1-percenters—in the earnest but
demonstrably false hope that doing so would create more jobs for fellow citizens on lower rungs of the social ladder.

Despite the Berry administration’s efforts, Albuquerque, the largest metropolitan area in New Mexico—working population-wise—significantly contributed to
a statewide loss of more than 46,000 jobs between 2009 and 2013.

That statistic consistently put the state and our city at the top of the list of high unemployment charts during those years, yet Berry was overwhelmingly re-elected for a second term in 2013. At that time, Susana Martinez and other state Repbublican operatives like Jay McCleskey
heralded Berry’s landslide showing against former DA Pete Dinelli as part of a long-lasting trend that would put GOP members in control at every level of government.

Berry’s economic analysts
predicted the yearly growth rate of receipts from the city’s gross receipts tax to amount to about 3% per year, a lately mythic and unattainable figure—the real number is closer to 1.7 percent—that was used to compute subsequent budgets submitted to the City Council for approval and enactment. Oops.

That means the city is already facing a deficit of about $6 million, a number that will only grow, and may reach as much as $40 million by the beginning of the next fiscal year, in July 2018.

The latest municipal fiscal report also identified numerous
problems that have contributed to our city’s shaky economic standing, including the ironic fact that the Martinez administration (also Republican) has phased out funding that supplements municipal losses from a lack of taxes on groceries, to tune of $2.3 million.

The Keller administration responded to the announcement of these newly sighted tough times ahead, all hands on deck moment by stating, “Economists have shown that our city is facing a challenging budget environment over the coming years. My administration will have to develop its priorities in the face of unfortunate funding shortages. Our budget is fundamentally a reflection of our priorities and in many ways is a moral document, so we are working hard to fund critical services. Together with the community, we will find a way to step up for officers and keep public safety, job creation and our kids at the forefront of our financial decisions … it will be critical for us to be creative with our financing and prioritize concrete ideas and foster broad-based economic growth.

We have a strong experienced financial team in place that has dealt with dozens of city budgets in the past, so I am confident we will be able to work up a series of options to address these challenges,” added Mayor Keller.

Though much of what Berry’s re-election portended (i.e. right-wing ascendancy all over the political playground) has come to pass—well, except for the grand economic turnaround in El Burque—the election of a progressive mayoral administration with professional auditing roots provides an excellent opportunity for this town.

The looming $50 million deficit facing the city of Albuquerque is not an enigma, may or may not be a stumbling block for a recovering Burque, is going to be handled by the new mayor but still raises hackles because its existence—and tolerance of by city councilors who managed Berry’s budgets—points to a very bad job done by a group of politicians whose ideology ostensibly runs this nation, but has resoundingly been rejected at the local and state level.

Such huge deficiencies don’t happen overnight, yet outgoing Mayor Berry made no mention of such a previously foreseen (or unforseen) economic struggle to come, in either his
State of the City Address in Sept. 2017 or in the exclusive interview he granted the local daily, days before his tenure ended. In both instances he painted his accomplishments brightly.

Okay, so Keller’s gonna try his damnest to get this mess straightened out, even if the gross receipts tax has to rise as a result. Somehow, we’ll get back to where we were in the halcyon ’90s, when Chavez was in charge. We’re honored to expect that from Keller and his able crew, yet wonder why
our City Council has said and done nothing about the economic threats our city has been facing for years; both Councilors Sanchez and Harris told the daily newspaper that they have been aware of the situation for some time, after all.

We can now move forward with the knowledge of precisely the type of deep damage Republican-style governance can bring to our cities—intending to vote ’em all out when the next opportunity arises, while we continue to support the keen oversight of a progressive administration that consistently responds to citizen needs.

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