Berry’s White Elephant is an appropriate nickname for a conservative Republican Mayor’s legacy project that no will use and a Mayor who campaigned on being fiscally responsible and who is now running for Governor.
Below is an Albuquerque Free Press article on the hidden costs of the ART Bus project.
ALBUQUERQUE FREE PRESS
Vol IV, Issue 6, February 15 – 21, 2017, page 14
“Utility Work Sends ART’s Price Tag Higher”
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Add another couple million dollars to the cost of Mayor Richard Berry’s $126 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project. That’s the cost of all the water and sewer line work that the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority has done and continues to do along Central Avenue in preparation for full-blown ART construction. The $7 million bill is being paid by local residents through their water and sewer bills. The water authority said on Feb. 10 that the total cost of the ART-related work along Central would be $7 million – nearly twice what was estimated to relocate water lines away from the center of the street and away from where ART stations are to be built. Water Utility spokesman David Morris said much of the work would have been needed anyway over the next 10 years. To cover the cost, the water authority approved a bond issue in January to raise $15 million more than the $56 million in bonds it sells every two years. About half of the extra $15 million is for ART-related work, Morris said. When the water authority’s staff presented the proposed bond issue to its board in December, they did not mention that more money was needed for ART-related projects. Elaine Hebard, a water activist who attends the water authority’s board meetings, said she was troubled by the lack of disclosure. “It bothers me that they didn’t say to the board or to the public that they were going to borrow an extra $15 million,” Hebard said. She said she wondered which other capital projects the ABCWUA has delayed so it could complete the work along a nine-mile stretch of Central.
OTHER HIDDEN COSTS
Other hidden cost that have yet to be reported on include any costs for relocating gas lines and perhaps buried electrical cables.
Additionally, the Berry Administration and the Albuquerque City Council have used $13 million dollars in revenue bonds to pay for the ART Bus project that were not voted upon by the public.
It was reported that Mayor Berry and the Albuquerque City Council have borrowed over $63 million dollars over the past two years to build pickle ball courts, baseball fields and the ART bus project down central by bypassing the voters. (For full story see January 2, 2017 Albuquerque Journal “BYPASSING the Voters” page A-1).
The $65 million dollars was borrowed with the Albuquerque City Councilors voting to use revenue bonds as the financing mechanism to pay for big capital projects, including the ART Bus project.
Revenue bonds must repaid with gross receipts tax revenues.
Gross receipts tax revenues are traditionally used for essential services such as police and fire protection.
The Mayor and City Council have become enamored with revenue bonds because they can literally pick and choose what projects they want to fund and build without any public input or vote whatsoever, so long as they have seven votes on the city council.
It’s likely that revenue bonds not voted upon by voters will have to be used to fund the ART Bus project when the federal grant fails.
A black cloud that continues to loom over the ART Bus project is the problem that the $69 million Federal Transit Administration grant the city is counting on to complete ART has yet to be approved by the Federal Transportation Administration nor has any money been appropriated by Congress for the small starts grants. (See Albuquerque Free Press, Vol. 10, Issue 5, February 8 to 14, “ART FUNDING STILL IN DOUBT”)
Congress is not expected to consider the budget until late March or early April and there is a chance that all funding will be denied for the grant.
The appropriations conference committees in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have recommended cutting the Federal Transportation Grant of $69 million dollar grant by anywhere from $19 million to $23 million.
When it’s all said a done, and the City does not get a dime from the federal government, taxpayers are going to be left thrown under the bus so to speak to pay for a Berry’s White Elephant legacy project that no one will use.
City Council Candidates running for reelection like Diane Gibson, Ken Sanchez and Don Harris need to be reminded how they voted to spend money that was never appropriated by congress.
Voters need to remember City Councilor Pat Davis, who now says he is running for Congress to replace Mitchell Lujan Grisham, told his constituents that there was nothing he could do about the ART bus project and he refused to put it on the ballot for a public vote.
Candidates running for Mayor need to be asked where they stand on ART and what they intend to do with the project.