Sins of Omission In Journal Endorsements

November 16th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Let me start by saying I endorse the sentiments expressed by colleague Arthur Alpert when he says his cause in writing these posts is journalism, rather than to promote one political party over another. Possible appearances to the contrary, that is and has been my intention as well.

That said, I submit examples of both a Democrat and a Republican about whom the Albuquerque Journal’s recent election coverage fell short; coverage either omitted or gave short shrift to pertinent facts about each candidate. This disservice to readers can be as much an indicator of bias as is mixing opinion into a so-called news item.

It’s especially a disservice when one considers that this pertinent information was left out of the Journal’s endorsements of these candidates. The Journal’s endorsement is what the Republican and Democrat used to illustrate these sins of omission have in common.

The Democrat example is Democrat Karen Montoya, the Journal’s choice for Bernalillo County assessor.

While there was plenty of news coverage on the problems “tax lightning” had caused for Bernalillo County homeowners and for Montoya as the incumbent assessor, Monday’s Business Outlook carries a story that finally focuses attention on one of Montoya’s actions, to which the Journal gave short-shrift in news coverage and then essentially wrote out of existence in its endorsement editorial.

What was omitted is the fall-out (that just about anyone could have predicted) stemming from Montoya’s declaration that apartments and other multi-family dwelling are not residential properties, a finding that has led to higher residential rents in the county. One landlord quoted in the Business Outlook story called it a “tenant tax” – because essentially the tax increase imposed on these residential properties is being passed on by some landlords to renters, many of whom can least afford it.

As the Journal pointed out in its Oct. 15 endorsement of Montoya, the incumbent assessor “was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place” when more than 2,000 Bernalillo County residents, protesting double- and triple-digit percentage increases on home property tax assessments, in January 2010 filed suit challenging a 2001 state law that eliminated the 3 percent state caps on property values once the property changes ownership. Two state district judges have since ruled that the cap violates the state Constitution by creating a class of people who are taxed more because of when they bought their homes.

The courts’ finding that the 3 percent cap should be applied to everyone is an issue that must be sorted out by the Legislature. Erroneously, the Journal’s endorsement used this “everyone” phrase in describing Montoya’s response to the litigation:

With no help from a Legislature that has had nine years to correct the problem, she (Montoya) opted to strike a blow for equity. Following the courts, she rolled back valuations for people hit by the so-called “tax lightning” and applied the 3 percent cap on annual valuations to everyone. (my emphasis added)

The Democrat was willing to take the public relations hit in light of the courts’ decision. Her bottom line? “We have to follow the law. That’s what we do.”

The problem with this endorsement’s phrasing is that, as today’s post-election story points out, the 3 percent cap was not applied to everyone.

By my count, the Journal has run nearly a dozen stories – many with front-page placement – about the tax lightning controversy. But other than this week’s Business Outlook story I could find only one pointing out that Montoya at one point decided she would provide relief only to owner-occupied properties. “Tax Values Explode: Will Rents Be Next?”, which ran April 29, revealed that “huge” assessment increases were being levied on landlords:

The value increases were triggered by a change in policy at the Bernalillo County Assessor’s Office. After a legal review, the office determined that owners of apartment complexes and other rental property aren’t eligible to receive the usual 3 percent limit on how much their values can increase each year, unless they live on the property.

“According to the (state) Constitution, they have to be owner-occupied to have a limitation on increase,” County Assessor Karen Montoya said.

Perhaps there will be protests now that Business Outlook has taken a look at the effect of this disparate application of the law on renters, as there were protests from individual homeowners. The story points out that:

None of the other 32 counties in New Mexico has followed Montoya’s lead in assessing apartments and other multifamily properties without the residential cap.
And that:
Montoya’s treatment of apartments as commercial properties only goes half way. The actual tax rate or mill levy applied to apartments is still the same residential rate used on single-family houses, not the higher tax rate used on commercial buildings.
Of note: The data reported in this story came from an analysis that had been requested by Republican county assessor candidate Christine Humphrey, who lost the election (and the Journal’s endorsement) to Montoya.

My Republican “sin of omission” example is Steve Pearce, the Journal’s choice for U.S. Congress in the state’s second district. Long-time Journal readers would expect the Journal to endorse Pearce, which is why it appeared that the Journal’s omission of one of Pearce’s positions might be deliberate, although it could have been just an oversight. During his first run for U.S. Congress in 2002, Pearce made it clear in both television appearances and his meeting with the Journal editorial board that he found it disturbing that federal government lands were “not taxable.” His proposed solution was to start selling federal public lands to private enterprise – a position many New Mexicans might consider a deal-breaker position in terms of supporting his return to Congress in 2010. There was no mention of this postion in the Journal’s profile of Pearce or its endorsement during the recent election cycle.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • David King

    No mention in your story about how Karen Montoya took it upon herself to “Interpret the law” in arriving at her “New tax lightning solution”. She hopes we forget the fact that she works for the Executive branch, and is only in charge of collecting taxes, not interpreting the law, which is the Judicial branch’s job.

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