Two vetoes, toking it up, plastic bags and a packed council chamber greeted the Albuquerque City Council as they gathered for a marathon meeting on April 4.
To Tax or Not to Tax?
A couple of tax bills were on the table. Both failed.
The first was Councilor Dan Lewis’ bill to cut 1/8 of the 3/8 of 1% gross receipts tax that was passed in 2018; at that time, it stipulated that 60% goes to public safety. City folks say that, while the public safety requirement has expired, the majority of the tax goes to the city’s public safety needs. The tax is expected to take in about $79 million by the next fiscal year. Councilor Lewis wanted to lower the tax to ¼ of 1%. If you do the math that saves about 10 cents for every $100 dollars or an estimated $26 million dollars that won’t go towards helping solve the complex public safety issues.
Councilor Lewis was on the offensive and accused the Mayor’s administration of spreading lies about the repealing of the bill. But the city’s Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael was not going to let it go unchecked and asked for civility even when the Councilors and the Mayor and his administration didn’t agree. Councilor Lewis said, “We were swimming in cash.” City finance folks made a presentation about the tax. In the end, the other eight Councilors disagreed and the repeal went down with only Councilor Lewis voting to cut the needed tax.
The second bill kept the tax intact but clearly dedicated 60% of the revenue to public safety and 40% to the city’s affordable housing. This should have passed but it didn’t, on a 5 – 4 vote.
Paper, Plastic or Bring Your Own
More than a handful of Councilors chose to ignore the numerous pleas by all ages to keep the plastic bag ban. The numerous and passionate public comments fell on some deaf ears as the Council voted 6 – 3 to keep the polluting bags flying around our city.
The ban was passed in 2019 after months of public input and debate. Mayor Tim Keller suspended the ban for over a year during the COVID-19 shut-down due to pandemic concerns, then brought it back after the pandemic eased. Councilor Brook Bassan, who sponsored the repeal, said she has not been bribed or paid off by lobbyists.
Sherman McCorkle from the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce said the ban on plastic bags was a burden on businesses. Most of the public disagreed, “We can say no to plastic bags,” said one speaker. Another reminded the Council that it was not the Mayor that brought forth the plastic bag ban in the first place, it was the citizens that petitioned for it. Another said that on a windy day the plastic bag show is particularly bad on the west end of Central. Councilor Klarissa Peña took offense to this reference and said she was proud of her district because the residents there keep the plastic bags picked up so there is not a plastic bag problem in her district. Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn said she wanted to recognize the youth that have worked on making the city’s environment better and that stepped up for public comment. One 11-year old spoke eloquently and has been trying to enlighten us about the plastic bag problem since she was eight years old. Another youth said that plastic bags are like dirty socks being left all around the living room. Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Fiebelkorn did the visionary thing and voted to keep plastic shopping bags out of our trees but it was to no avail as the other six basically said to bring on the plastic. Maybe some retailers will step up and say “No” on their own to handing out plastic bags. Consumers can say “No” by carrying reusable bags.
Vaccine or Not Veto?
With zero debate, the mayor’s veto of a bill did not have the support needed to override. It needed six votes and the 5-4 vote meant the veto stands. The bill said the city could not require its employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. It was a weird defensive measure since the city had never made such a requirement. Councilors in favor of overriding the veto said that city employees should have peace of mind that there would never be such a requirement to get vaccinated against a fast-spreading deadly disease. All of this was a waste of the public’s time and money in order for a faction of the Council to posture about freedom of choice since there was no requirement in the first place.
Cannabis Cafes To Come
Happy days are here, as Councilor Benton said. Councilors gave the green light to creating smoking lounges where folks can sit and have a cup of joe and a joint. As Councilor Fiebelkorn said, inhaling cannabis products in public spaces is still illegal. This includes within vehicles. The bill at hand only addresses the city’s Clean Indoor Air Act. Folks can toke or nibble up at home. This bill allows businesses to apply for conditional use permits for indoor smoking areas.
A memorial urging the City Council to ask the U.S. Federal Government to support the United Nations Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, reaffirming the state and Albuquerque as nuclear weapons-free zones. Willard Hunter and other members of Veterans for Peace Albuquerque spoke in support of the memorial and said there were 40 U.S. cities and many countries that have passed this memorial. The Council did not agree and it failed. Seems the Council doesn’t want to piss off the local military bases and national laboratories as they are huge contributors to the economy.
The Council also voted 5 – 4 to rescind a recent policy mandating project labor agreements on city projects over $10 million using workers from at least three crafts that have collective bargaining agreements with labor unions.
The next meeting of the City Council is set for a live, in-person meeting at 5 pm on April 18. Attend in person or watch it at GOV-TV at cabq.gov or on Comcast Cable Channel 16 or on the city’s YouTube channel.
*Disclaimer: Pat Davis is the co-owner of The Paper.