Why fight it?
What reason is behind the mayor opposing a ‘quality of life’ tax?

It is a puzzlement to voters in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County why Mayor Martin Chavez and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce would oppose the "quality of life" initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot.

It makes no sense, particularly in the face of huge cultural community support for the initiative that would raise the gross receipts tax 3/16ths of 1 percent, or about the cost of one modest meal for a family of four - roughly $40 year.

One argument against the initiative is that gross receipts taxes are regressive, hitting the less-well-off harder than the rich. And this is true. But the implication here is that people of low to moderate incomes don't avail themselves of cultural services and amenities that the initiative would support. That's not true.

The purpose of the "quality of life" initiative is to increase everyone's access to the city's and county's cultural institutions. The initiative would help keep public libraries open on evenings and Mondays. It would make possible free admission to the zoo for school groups. Organizations, such as VSA arts, which serve highly talented but disabled artists and writers, would benefit as well.

After years of making the case that the city's cultural life is essential to the growth of its overall economy - an idea that Mayor Chavez's mentor, Harry Kinney, vigorously supported - opposition to the initiative is more than surprising.

Is there a hidden skirmish between the county and the city going on? The Bernalillo County Commission adopted the "quality of life" initiative. Only counties can do so, by law. And the Albuquerque City Council last year voted to send a memorial to the Legislature also supporting the initiative. Is it that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish supports the initiative and happens to be one of Mayor Chavez's major opponents for a possible run for governor? Who knows?

One of New Mexico's great cultural advocates, Edward Lujan, a guiding light of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, supports the initiative. And most readers, museum-goers, animal lovers and appreciators of music and art do, too.

One does not have to be rich or well-to-do to be a devoted patron of the cultural life of New Mexico.

If the "quality of life" initiative is defeated this year, it will be some time before a similar effort can be made. And if opponents insist on having the plan be a regional one, between multiple counties, it will never be accomplished. We can't even get a regional land-use and planning authority.

In troubled times such as our own, a small cultural tax could seem out of touch with reality. But quite the opposite is true. Learning, questioning and cultivating the skills of critical thinking are the gifts of cultural experience and three bulwarks of democracy.

The "quality of life" initiative has come at exactly the time it's needed the most.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
October 21, 2006