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NM lawmakers warn finance board over tax district

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Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe

SANTA FE — A bipartisan group of legislative leaders is warning Gov. Susana Martinez and other members of the state Board of Finance that they don’t have authority to create a new tax district on Albuquerque’s West Side.

That power belongs to the Legislature, they say.

At issue is an 800-page application by Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the company that’s also behind the massive Santolina master plan.

The company is seeking approval for a new tax district that would allow it to divert roughly $80 million in future tax revenue generated within its “Lower Petroglyphs” project, just north of Santolina.

The tax revenue would reimburse Western Albuquerque Land Holdings for improving streets and building other public infrastructure.

The state Board of Finance — headed by Gov. Martinez, a Republican — agreed earlier this month to waive an application deadline and consider approval of the tax diversion in December, at the earliest, according to online records.

But Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said the board doesn’t have authority on its own to approve the diversion of state tax revenue. Lawmakers also object to the waiving of the deadline.

Tax increment development districts, as they’re called, must be approved by the Legislature before going to the governor, he said. That’s been the procedure for years, Wirth said.

The Legislative Council, a bipartisan panel of leaders from the state House and Senate, voted 14-0 this week to send a letter warning the board of a potential lawsuit.

“Allowing the Board of Finance to bypass the legislative process to authorize state gross receipts taxes to be used for something like that — and taken out of the overall budget mix — would set a very dangerous precedent,” Wirth said in an interview.

The city of Albuquerque, meanwhile, has already approved its own tax district for the Lower Petroglpyhs. City councilors voted 6-2 earlier this year to authorize up to $63 million to be diverted from future tax revenue.

Supporters say it helps lay the groundwork for a new hospital to be built on the West Side, north of Interstate 40, near the Albuquerque Public Schools stadium.

Attorney Pat Rogers, who presented the tax application to the state Board of Finance, said the new tax district would help bring a hospital and job opportunities to an area that desperately needs them.

Adding jobs west of the Rio Grande has been a longtime goal of Albuquerque leaders who want to reduce the congestion created by West Side residents heading east for work.

A spokeswoman for the Board of Finance said she couldn’t comment because the board hasn’t received the letter.

In a written statement, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings said it’s simply following the standard process for seeking a public-private partnership with the state.
The company and Presbyterian Healthcare Services “are working together to create a central business district that promotes high-paying jobs and improved health care, all while alleviating traffic crossing the Rio Grande River, to the residents of Albuquerque’s West Side,” WALH said.
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