The Water Authority’s Debt Question

By Walker Boyd

Ticky-Tacky by sarahgoldsmith on Flickr

In early 2009, the authoritative ratings agency Moody’s assigned an ‘Aa2’ rating to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority (ABCWUA). This is good news for the Authority: the high rating ensures low interest rates on any bonds they might issue.

And they have been issued: If the ABCWUA is a house, then it is mortgaged to the hilt: the Authority has about $2000 in debt for each one of its customers.

It is strange to read about the Water Authority from the perspective of national or international bond investors. Instead of water availability, Colorado River flows above El Vado, or average customer use, Moody’s analysts were more concerned about “customer growth” and the effect that slowing construction of new residences might have on the Authority’s short-term growth.

This dovetails with another favorite past-time of financial analysts, real estate speculation. Because tax increases are so unpalatable to Americans, city governments are often hamstrung by their own success. Low taxes attract businesses (for example Intel), but higher taxes to pay for deferred costs like water use and street improvements are politically unpalatable. Speculators can thus count on friendly city managers, willing to do anything to attract business to their own city in order to attract “jobs”. But how does a city with a complete inability to raise taxes or utility rates continue to provide essential services?

Until recently, the solution has been Gross receipts: So long as Albuquerque continues to grow at a healthy pace, property sales and construction give the state a steady flow of income.

Any city manager is thus faced with a unique problem: how do you keep up with increased demands for government services (like better water treatment) without raising taxes? Until now, the solution has been to grow, and when growth has been anemic, issue bonds. Hence the concern with growth that the Moody’s analysts linked above express. Anything less than 2% growth means that Albuquerque becomes a debt basket case in record time.

There is nothing inherently wrong with bonds; the ability to efficiently distribute wealth has been a hallmark of Western society’s growth since the 16th century. Conservative historians argue that the Italian invention of double-entry book keeping and other European innovations in finance and accounting are responsible for the Western world’s higher quality of life. When growth is desirable, bonds can help a city or a country build necessary infrastructure, which they pay for later with a larger, more productive population.

But in a city like Albuquerque which has already seen its fair share of development, bond issues can take on a pernicious role, encouraging growth for its own sake rather than Albuquerque’s general well-being.

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Mayor Berry: From the Audacity of Fear to “Never Mind”

So, I’m not exactly complaining, but I AM wondering…what the heck is going on with Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and his campaign-era vow to eliminate Albuquerque’s status as a “sanctuary city?”

Berry made that claim last fall when he was locked in a three-way race for mayor with incumbent mayor Martin Chavez and fellow challenger Richard Romero.

Berry accused then-mayor Chavez of overseeing a policy that helped attract immigrant criminals to Albuquerque.  They came, Berry said, because Albuquerque police were not allowed to question a person about his or her immigration status unless the person was already arrested, or unless it was the officer’s opinion that the immigration status might be relevant to a criminal investigation.

Berry pledged to eliminate that policy and restore “common sense policy” to Albuquerque. Berry’s promise drew the ire of immigration rights activists and many other progressives – but apparently helped him win the votes of many conservatives.

However, now that he’s been elected mayor, Berry says he will hold off changing the policy until the city’s legal staff can review whether it can legally be done.

That’s interesting, given the fact that the New Mexico Independent and other news outlets noted before the election that the city was forced to adopt the so-called sanctuary policy in 2007 as part of the settlement of a 2005 lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The landmark suit alleged that the civil rights of three Del Norte High School students were violated when they were detained on campus until immigration officials could question them.

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Albuquerque’s City Climate Action Plan Passes Unanimously!

Two nights ago the hard work over many months of 60 or so Albuquerqueans (in the form of the Climate Action Task Force) finally paid off, as the Albuquerque City Council voted unanimously to pass their City Climate Action Plan.

As I’ve written about before the purpose of the Climate Action Task Force was to “design strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.”  The task force was made up of volunteers from all walks of life. After they formulated the plan, they had it reviewed by peer groups and also conducted ten town hall meetings throughout the city to get feedback on the plan from city residents.

A PDF file of the entire Climate Action Plan can found at this link.

I attended one of the town hall meetings a couple months ago and posted a video from it on Clearly.  You can see it here.

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Wary of Berry

By a decisive margin, Albuquerqueans elected themselves a new mayor on Tuesday.  The conventional wisdom is that Richard “R.J.” Berry did what he had to do to win.

But, for those who didn’t vote for him, his victory raises questions for many about which Berry will show up to run the city.

Will Albuquerque get Berry the state legislator, a moderate Republican who’s been willing to work with those who disagree with him politically?

Or will Albuquerque’s new mayor more closely resemble Berry the candidate, who ran largely on Republican talking points and polarized and alienated many voters in the city with his “sanctuary city” comments regarding immigrants and crime?

In short, there’s been quite a distinction between the way Berry has served in the past and the way he ran his recent campaign for Albuquerque mayor.

Which leaves me with one question.  Which Richard Berry is going to show up for work on December 2?

Fear Of A Brown Planet?

brownplanet“Unfortunate” and “chilling?”

How about insulting and xenophobic?

Local advocates may have held back a bit last week when they condemned Republican Albuquerque mayoral candidate Richard “R.J.” Berry and the New Mexico Republican Party for blaming a brutal murder on the city’s existing immigration policies.

Albuquerque police have charged suspected members of a hardcore El Salvadoran crime gang with murdering cook Stephanie Anderson on June 20 as they robbed a crowded Denny’s Restaurant on the city’s West Side.

In the aftermath of the crime, Berry and state Republican Party executive director Ryan Cangliosi blamed the city’s police policies regarding immigrants for the murder and called Albuquerque a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.

Berry and Cangliosi said they were lamenting the fact that since 2007, city policy bars police from questioning a person about his or her immigration status unless the person is already under arrest or the officer feels their immigration status may be relevant to a criminal investigation.

The city adopted the policy in connection with a 2005 civil rights lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund involving three Del Norte students who were detained at their school until immigration officials could question them.

In the days since the murder, Albuquerque police revealed that they had arrested one of the suspects, Pablo Ortiz, for DUI in 2008. He served time in jail and was then voluntarily deported to El Salvador. Police don’t know how Ortiz got back into the country and came to commit the murder. But city policies on immigration don’t appear to have anything to do with it.

Late last week, a coalition of advocacy groups expressed outrage that Berry and the Republican Party would attempt to use the murder as a pawn in their political chess game.

“Campaigns like this (against immigrants) have had a chilling impact on Hispanic/Latino communities across the country, resulting in increased discrimination, hate crimes, and racial profiling,” Adrian Pedroza, executive director of the Albuquerque Partnership, a Latino-led advocacy-based coalition, told the New Mexico Independent.

“At a time when we should be coming together to mourn the tragic death of a community member, it is unfortunate that there are those who would use this issue to further a political agenda,” Barbara Dua, executive director of the statewide New Mexico Conference of Churches, told NMI. “This is a time for us to unite, not be divided by fear mongering.”

Advocates say what Berry and the Republicans are claiming is unfortunate and chilling.

But let’s also call it what else it is – a xenophobic attempt to insult people’s common sense by confusing the facts and blurring the line between immigrants and the kind of ganged-up criminals who shoot a woman in cold blood.

Using the specter of crime and public safety to elicit knee-jerk reactions during political season is an old trick.

Did any of you fall for it?

City Charter Task Force: What the Journal Won’t Tell You

coaI had the honor of serving on Albuquerque’s City Charter Revision Task Force, along with 13 other dedicated individuals. Our group ranged across the political spectrum with diverse interests and was most professionally chaired by former State District Court Judge Wendy York.

Based on the Albuquerque Journal’s story and editorial this week, you’d think all we did over the past eight months, consisting of 17 full Task Force meetings and numerous subcommittee meetings, was argue over the issue of nonprofits – the topic with which the Journal is so clearly obsessed.

Amazingly, the Journal failed to mention – in both its news story and its editorial – that the Task Force actually killed the proposed nonprofit amendment to the City Charter sponsored by Chuck Gara for lack of support and because of gaping holes in its application and constitutionality.

That’s right. Gara’s amendment was withdrawn. Only after the amendment’s withdrawal did the Task Force cast a symbolic vote to request the City Council look at the nonprofit issue, just as the Council will consider the tens, if not hundreds of governance issues, when it takes up the Charter next month.  But if the Journal is your only news source, you could hardly be blamed for believing that the Task Force’s sole accomplishment over these past eight months was sending this nonprofit issue up to the Council for “action” — even though the amendment was killed.

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If it’s Friday, it’s time to bury the Perlman story

It is being reported that Mayor Martin Chavez’s right-hand man is out. Bruce Perlman, Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Albuquerque, abruptly resigned this afternoon. (NM Independent)

Chavez made no comment about his long-time friend’s departure. But curiously, the Mayor’s office announced that Perlman’s replacement has already been named — Chief Operations Officer Ed Adams.

Before coming in as CAO three years ago, Perlman was a chief bag man for the Mayor. He was one of the ring leaders of ABQPAC, Chavez’s notorious slush fund. The City Ethics Board found Chavez guilty in that affair. Continue reading

Greenwashing Mayor Introduces the New Art of Ethics-washing

Dan McKay reported in last Friday’s Journal that Mayor Martin Chavez is taking on the issue of ethics at City Hall. McKay writes:

Mayor Martin Chávez says he wants to transform the ethical culture at City Hall– starting with new training for employees, independence for the city clerk and termination for those who flout the rules.

Chavez says, “…we want to weed out the bad apples.”

Also on Friday, this website featured an investigative report by Pulitzer Prize winner Eileen Welsome about Chavez’s relationship with Marc Schiff, the architect who pled guilty to felony charges connected with the Courthouse scandal. That cozy mayoral connection appears to have resulted in the public getting overcharged millions of dollars for the design and construction of the Balloon Museum. Continue reading

Marty “Duck and Cover” Chavez

Back in June 2007, the Albuquerque Journal and local blogs reported that the City of Albuquerque’s claim that its red light camera program had reduced crashes at intersections was false. Who took the heat for the cooked books? APD spokesman John Walsh and Chief Ray Schultz.

Last week, the Journal (sub) reported that the City released false information about the number of animals euthanized and the number adopted in City animal facilities. Animal Welfare director, Jeanine Patterson had to step up and account for “bad formulas” used to generate the data. According to the Journal Patterson was hired after these bad formulas were created. Continue reading