The Albuquerque Journal commissioned a poll by its long time pollster Research and Polling. The poll was conducted from October 15 through October 21. The Albuquerque Journal has used Research and Polling for decades as its exclusive pollster. Research and Polling has the reputation as the most respected, most accurate and most reliable polling company in the state with Brian Sanderoff as the chief principal.
The Albuquerque Journal published two separate articles, one on the stadium and one on the voter’s views on the economy. The headlines and links to the articles are here:
“City voters take dim view on economy” by Jessica Dyer / Journal staff writer
“Journal Poll: Most city voters oppose stadium bond measure” by Jessica Dyer / Journal staff writer
This blog article highlights the poll results on the two issues quoting the most relevant portion of the articles followed by blog article Commentary and Analysis.
“CITY VOTERS TAKE DIM VIEW ON ECONOMY”
The poll asked the following 2 questions on the economy:
1. Would you say you are financially better off, worse off, or about the same before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The responses to this question were:
16% responded BETTER OFF
18% responded WORSE OFF
66% responded ABOUT THE SAME
1% responded DON’T KNOW
2. How would you rate the strength of Albuquerque’s economy [excellent, good, fair, poor, don’t know]?
2% responded EXCELLENT
25% responded GOOD
50% responded FAIR
21% responded POOR
2% responded DON’T KNOW
Quoting portions of the Journal article highlighting the poll results:
“… 25% of respondents rated the strength of Albuquerque’s economy as “good,” while just 2% rated it as “excellent.”
“… 71% of respondents rated the economy as either “fair” or “poor.”
“… Most … respondents [50% overall] rate the economy as fair rather than the lowest option. A similar poll from 2017 found that 35% of respondents rated the economy as “poor” with another 47% rating it “fair.”
“Just 27% of likely Albuquerque voters take a positive view of the city’s economy, even though many say their personal finances haven’t changed much since the COVID-19 pandemic reached New Mexico … . more than a year and a half ago.”
“Asked if they were financially better off, worse off or about the same as before the pandemic, 66% of respondents said their financial situation is about the same.”
“16% of respondents said they were better off financially than before the pandemic [and] 18% said they were worse off.”
“Among respondents without a high school diploma, nearly twice as many said they were worse off (27%) as said they were better off (14%).”
“The view of the city’s economy showed a strong partisan divide, with 34% of Republicans rating the economy as poor, compared to 12% of Democrats… “
Accord to Research and Polling executive Brian Sanderoff the economic progress of the city often correlates with which party occupies the highest office and he had this to say:
“If we had a Republican mayor, I think we’d see more Republicans being complimentary of the overall direction of the economy. ”
“Asked what they believe is the biggest issue facing residents in the Albuquerque Metro area today, just 3% of respondents cited the weak economy putting it behind crime, homelessness, poor education, COVID-19 and the proposed soccer stadium on the list of responses.”
The link to the quoted source material is here:
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
A combined 71% of respondents rating the economy as either “fair” or “poor” should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone given the city’s high unemployment rate and a lack of any real economic development. The city for decades has faced significant challenges due to a lack of economic diversification and the COVID-19 pandemic made things even worse with its impact on the city’s tourism and service industries.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor statistics, Albuquerque’s unemployment rate was 7.2% in April, 2021 and increased to 7.4% in July, 2021.
The city’s unemployment rate is worse than the state’s and far worse than the country’s. On October 22, 2021, the New Mexico Department of workforce Solutions reported:
“New Mexico’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.9 percent in September, down from 7.2 percent in August and down from 8.6 percent in the previous year. The national unemployment rate in September was 4.8 percent, down from 5.2 percent in August and down from 7.8 percent in September 2020.”
ALBUQUERQUE’S PATH FORWARD
The major obstacles to economic development in Albquerquerqu are well known to anyone who has lived, worked and done business for any length of time in the city. Those obstacles are high crime rates, poverty, ever increasing homelessness, ineffective or substandard education system and workforce preparation, and a lack of national and major publicly traded companies all make the list.
Albuquerque Economic Development (AED) is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to recruit new employers and industry and help local companies grow to generate quality job opportunities for the Albuquerque metro area. On Tuesday, June 29, AED announced what it touted as its “first-of-its-kind five-year strategic plan” to stimulate job creation, to work to overcome some of the city’s most chronic problems and to boost the city’s brand nationally. The AED’s vision under the strategic is idealistic as idealistic as it gets and yet straight forward.
AED’s specific five-year goal is for Albuquerque to rank in the top 25% of midsized markets in the U.S. for job growth. That in and of itself will be a steep climb for the city which saw a pathetic 0.7% job growth in the past five years which placed the city in the bottom 25% for cities with a population of between 500,000 and 1 million people.
AED’s plan identifies six major industries that have momentum now that will help with economic development:
Digital media and film
Corporate and professional services
FILM & TELEVISION
AED’s plan identifying “digital media and film” as an industry having momentum cannot be overemphasized. Over the last 20 years, the film and television industry has steadily grown and been one of the few bright spots for the city, especially during the great recession, when it comes to economic development and diversifying the city’s economy which is too dependent on government spending and job creation.
It was in 2019 that the film industry began to seriously emerge to be one of the biggest hopes for Albuquerque to diversify the city and states economies. The unmistakable evidence was the immense investment in the city by NBC Universal and the Netflix purchase of Albuquerque studios as the site of a new production hub. Both NBC and Netflix announced opening film production facilities in Albuquerque.
On October 8, 2018, it was announced that Netflix was buying Albuquerque Studios. The State contributed $10 million of Local Economic Development Act funds. The City of Albuquerque contributed another $4.5 million of Local Economic Development Funds. Albuquerque beat out other places such as Denver, Salt Lake City, Austin, New York, Georgia and Los Angeles. The Albuquerque site will be Netflix’s first hub purchased in the United States. Albuquerque Studios is an enormous complex that includes 9 sound stages, a backlot and management offices. New Mexico’s other 4 production studios are I-25 Studios, Garson Studios, Santa Fe Studios and Las Cruces Studios as other productions seek studio space for their projects.
On July 22, 2019, NBC Universal announce it would open a studio in Albuquerque as part of a 10-year venture. The media giant took over and renovated and created sound stages at a vacant industrial building south of I-40 on Commercial Street, north of downtown in the vicinity of historic Martinez town. The media giant is expected to provide more than 330 full-time jobs year-round at the film studio.
NBC Universal employees earn about $58,000 a year which is a far cry from the minimum wage jobs the city is use to announcing with the arrival of new businesses. The studio operation is projected to generate an economic impact of $1.1 billion over a 10-year period.
AED’s plan identifying “aerospace” as an industry having momentum also cannot be overemphasized.
On Thursday, November 12, 2020, the City of Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commission approved the new site plan for the “Orion Center.” It is an aerospace and technology facility that will be built on the 122-acre plot of land located between Kirtland Air Force Base and Albuquerque International Sunport. “Group Orion”, the developer, is a subsidiary of Theia Group Inc., a Washington D.C. based, privately held aerospace company. The Theia Group is attempting to develop a network of satellites to digitally image and collect data on the physical world, providing solutions in areas from logistics to biology.
The mass area acreage was originally where the North-South airport runway was located. The land has now been designated for industrial development by the city. In 2017 after the runway was removed, the City named the acreage as the “Aviation Center for Excellence”. The city began to offer the vacant land area for commercial and office developers . According to Nyika Allen, Albuquerque’s Director of Aviation, the city began working with “Group Orion” in late 2018.
During the November 12th press conference announcing the development, Albuquerque Economic Development Director Synthia Jaramillo said the Orion Project represents a real opportunity to attract development from the commercial space industry. According to Jaramillo:
“The global space economy is projected to be worth $3 trillion by 2045.”
Jaramillo cited Albuquerque’s “engineering-savvy” workforce, low property tax rates, which are some of the lowest in the country, and tax deductions that target the aviation and aerospace industries. In addition, the city boasts “large swaths of vacant land, unrestricted air space and low population density.”
James Reid Gorman, Vice President of Administration for Theia, said Albuquerque was appealing to the company because of its “pipeline of engineering talent” from the University of New Mexico Engineering College. One goal is for the company to partner with all New Mexico universities to attract graduates and he said “It’s going to be a big part of our strategy in recruiting.”
Links to news coverage sources are here:
A link to a related blog article is here:
“MOST CITY VOTERS OPPOSE STADIUM BOND MEASURE”
On the Nov. 2 ballot is a bond proposal that asks city voters if they support or oppose using $50 million in bonds to buy property and build a new multipurpose stadium. The ballot question itself contains defective language about the nature of the city’s $50 million stadium bond proposal.
DEFECTIVE BALLOT QUESTION
General Obligation Bonds (GO bonds) require voter approval. GO bond debt is paid off with property taxes. The November 2 ballot features 11 city GO bond questions totaling $140 million and voters have an extensive history of passing GO Bonds.
Gross Receipts Tax (GRT bonds) is where the debt incurred to finance construction is paid for by use of the city’s tax revenues to pay the debt. GRT bonds do not require voter approval and can be passed by the city council with a super majority of 7 out of 9 votes.
The ballot question on the stadium describes the project financing as “gross receipts tax revenue bonds” (GRT Bonds) which is accurate. If the measure passes the city will use a portion of its gross receipts tax on the sale of goods and services to make annual payments of $3 million to pay off the $50 million debt barrowed to build the stadium.
The ballot wording changes where voters actually mark their ballots. Voters have the choice between filling in an oval that says they are “for general obligation bonds” or an oval indicating they are “against general obligation bonds.”
The City Attorney has taken the position that the ballot question is “advisory only” and the wording conflict will not render passage, if it happens, void. Mayor Keller has said if the vote fails, he will abandon the project and not build the stadium.
City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. explained it this way:
“The question on the ballot as written does not pose a legal issue because it will advise the City regarding the voter’s perspective on whether the City should issue bonds to build a multi-use stadium.”
The link to quoted source material is here:
If passed, the city will use gross receipts tax revenues to pay off the debt, estimated at $3 million annually for 25 years. In and agreement with the city, New Mexico United professional soccer team will lease the stadium from the city and be its primary tenant. The Soccer team has pledged to pay $10 million upfront to help build the stadium and $900,000 annually to use it.
ABQ JOURNAL POLL HIGHLIGHTS
The highlights of the Journal poll article are as follows:
“Only 37% of Albuquerque voters say they support the city’s proposed $50 million bond to help build a multiuse soccer stadium, according to a new Journal Poll. That compares with 55% who oppose the plan – most of whom describe their disapproval as strong.
Only a fraction (3%) say that it depends or that they are undecided (4%).
… Voters say the city should look somewhere other than Downtown if it goes through with the project.
The poll of likely city voters found little variation in stadium bond support based on gender and only some distinctions based on age and ethnicity.
… Ages 35-49 expressed more support than those both younger and older, but even among that age group, fewer than half (48%) favor the bond. More Hispanic voters (42%) than Anglo voters (35%) like the stadium bond.
“The clearest distinctions are tied to political affiliation. … ”
“Democrats are fairly evenly split on the bond measure, with 46% in support and 45% opposed.”
“… Among Republicans, … only 22% support it, compared with 71% who oppose it.”
“36% of independents voiced support … compared with 55% who are against the bond.”
“Even voters who say they are casting ballots to reelect Mayor Tim Keller – who first announced the bond proposal during a pep rally-style speech at a New Mexico United soccer tailgate – do not show strong support for the bond. Only 49% of Keller’s voters say they support it, compared with 42% who say they are against it.”
“Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc., said conservative opposition to the bond is expected. But the proposal’s lukewarm reception among people on the left is more unusual in what he called a “blue-leaning city” where such issues normally pass.”
“Journal Poll: Most city voters oppose stadium bond measure” by Jessica Dyer / Journal staff writer
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
During the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions, the New Mexico legislature earmarked $9 million for the project including $4 million from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham during the 2021 legislative session. The cost of the $400,000 analysis was paid for by state money allocated in the 2020 session. Technically, such bonds do not require voter approval but Mayor Tim Keller has said he would not pursue the stadium if the bond fails. Between the bond issue, if approved, the state funding already committed, there should be enough to construct the stadium.
It’s very disappointing that opposition emerged to the stadium with people arguing that the millions to pay off the bond could instead be used to combat homelessness or crime and that the city has so many other pressing issues that come before a stadium. For decades, such arguments have been made to stop major quality of life facilities and projects. The best example is when voters said no to a performing art center in the late 1980’s.
For the last 50 years, City Hall and virtually all Albuquerque Mayors have been fascinated and enamored with trying to revitalize the Downtown Central area. All Mayors wanted to bring back Downtown Central of its heyday of the 1950’s and 1960’s where it was the center of commercial, business and retail and entertainment activity. The new multipurpose stadium is one major project that has the most potential to finally change and encourage development of the downtown area.
The city is already spending as much as $25 to $30 million a year to help the homeless with services, voucher programs, and grants to service providers to the homeless. The city has purchased the old Loveless Hospital on Gibson for $15 Million for the new Gateway homeless shelter. Further, the county enacted the behavioral health tax that raises $20 Million a year for mental health care facilities and programs that also help the homeless.
As far as crime and police are concerned, the Albuquerque Police Department is the largest city budget having a $227 Million dollar a year budget. APD’s budget continues to increase year after year. Its not an issue of not having the resources to fight crime, but an issue of a poorly managed police department with at least 150 vacancies in sworn police.
The New Mexico United has “skin in the game” when it comes to the City of Albuquerque investing $50 million in building an outdoor sports complex. The $10 million contribution by United New Mexico and the lease is enough for the public to seriously consider it.
Albuquerque cannot be just a cop on every corner, a fire truck on every street, a jail or homeless shelter in every city quadrant, a garbage dumpster at every turn, streets without potholes and buses like ART that no one uses. Any truly great city must include facilities that enhance the quality of life of its citizens, such as libraries, zoos, museums, aquariums, the ABQ Biopark and athletic facilities like Isotopes Park and yes a soccer stadium.
Should the measure fail at the ballot, which appears likely, the city and the state should explore funding the multipurpose stadium with a joint venture.