Terri Cole, President and CEO for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce last night testified before Bernalillo County Commissioners on two controversial community issues: the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) Project and the Paid Sick Leave initiative.
On a 3-2 vote last night, the Bernalillo County Commission voted to approve a resolution that would place a non-binding question on the November 2016 ballot.
Here’s how the question is phrased: “Are you in favor of giving voters residing in the city of Albuquerque municipal limits the chance to vote in support of or opposition to the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit project?”
This latest development comes on the heels of a forward-moving ruling last Friday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals which lifted an injunction that had halted the project since its inception.
Construction is expected to begin on the project in the coming days, but come November 2016, residents will have a chance to vote on whether they think the project should be scheduled for a public vote in the future. Yes, it sounds very odd to us too. A vote in November 2016 to decide whether the project should be scheduled for a future public vote? All after the project is well underway? Yes.
Commissioners discussed their reasoning behind their support for or opposition to the addition of the non-binding, advisory question. Commissioners Hart Stebbins and O'Malley supported the question. "I'm very pro-transit," said Hart-Stebbins, but the county wasn't consulted. The constituents have said to me that they were not given an opportunity for input."
Commissioners Johnson and Talbert opposed the addition of the question to the ballot calling into question to usefulness of an advisory question and noting that the county shouldn't be making decisions for the city. "I can't support it because we're making decisions for the city and that's wrong," said Talbert.
Commissioner De La Cruz discussed the difficulty of the decision, ultimately deciding to support it. "I do agree that we do have the right...to put the question on the ballot...Are we putting ourselves in the role of the city council?" he queried. "This has been a very contentious issue. I support asking the question."
PAID SICK LEAVE
Cole’s public comments testimony also covered the paid sick leave initiative which would require employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees. The Chamber has been vocal about the serious negative impacts the mandate would have on businesses. Most recently, the Chamber expressed its opposition to and concern about the possibility that only a summary of the petition would be available on the November ballot if the initiative made it on the ballot; the full petition is seven pages long.
“If you leave this off the ballot, you’ll be doing a great service to this community,” said Cole. “We’d like to think that there is a sane center here on this issue and I’m here on behalf of the Chamber to commit that we will find it.” Cole said that that sane center would be effective for everyone in the community as well as the business community. The Chamber had expected that the paid sick leave issue would be voted upon at last night’s Commission meeting and a coalition of business groups were set to testify in opposition to it.
Lynne Anderson, President of NAIOP, a coalition member, expressed disappointment that the issue didn’t end up on Tuesday night’s agenda. During her testimony she told the commission that the five sentence petition summary “is not enough” and would be a “disservice” to businesses. On behalf of business coalition member ACI, President Jason Espinoza, told Commission members, “Some employees may benefit but it will come at the cost of many other New Mexicans.”
The Paid Sick Leave issue did not make it on Tuesday night's Bernalillo County Commission agenda.