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Here they go again. Voters just approved a large K-12 school bond issue, and now all the power elites are lined up (an ominous omen for ordinary folk) with a lavishly financed campaign for another special election to triple the tax levy for UNM-LA.
Los Alamos is fairly affluent, but we have a substantial population of fixed income taxpayers who simply cannot afford an increased tax bite. Sewage rates and homeowners insurance have skyrocketed and medical, dental, food and gasoline costs ramp up relentlessly. Also, this tax increase will stress businesses that will soon be facing increased competition from Smith’s Marketplace. And let’s have some compassion for the hundreds of laid off lab workers.
It is disturbing that even though this issue could be placed on the next general election ballot at no cost, the pro tax contingent has ordered a costly special election. The $30,000 bill will be sent to UNM-LA. The tax group claims no taxpayer money will be utilized, although they admit they may tap student housing reserve money to supplement private donations. Why squander such a large sum? It is well known that it is easier to pass tax increases in special elections, which are held at odd times. It is a tactic to manipulate the democratic process.
Also, budget cuts to the lab are reducing revenues to the county and we have a council that seems incapable of fiscal prudence. Clearly, the council is determined to jack up real estate taxes — and the council doesn’t need voter approval. However, the council is temporarily deferring its tax increase, giving UNM-LA a window of opportunity to squeeze in the special election — because surly voters would likely deny the college tax after being slammed with the new county levy.
Let me be clear that I believe the pro-tax group is well-intentioned — and that UNM-LA is an essential asset to the community. But in its zeal, I believe the pro-tax increase group is using misleading claims. A core justification is that our levy is only one mil and they haven’t had an “operational increase” in 30 years. But what they don’t tell us is that the taxable value of existing property, plus new construction in Los Alamos has exploded. That one mil now has a much larger base to tap. According to the assessor, the taxable value of property in Los Alamos in 1983 was $260 million (in 2012 dollars). In 2012, the value ballooned to $700 million. So they have raked in a huge increase, in real terms, of 260 percent! This claim is an insult to Los Alamos taxpayers.
Citizens are also being bombarded with the assertion that we are at the lowest tier for local college levies compared to other New Mexico regions. For example, Carlsbad has a mil levy of 2.85 mils, compared to Los Alamos at one mil. Wow, LA is a bunch of slackers, right? Wrong.
They conveniently leave out that Los Alamos has much higher property valuations. According to City-Data.com, the median value of a home in Carlsbad is $89,000 vs. $312,000 in LA. That homeowner pays $84 vs. the LA bill of $100. We are in the highest tier when you look at actual dollars collected from a typical homeowner. A 2 mil increase will boost the LA median home’s bill to more than three times what a typical Carlsbad homeowner pays.
There are viable alternatives to raising taxes. The money raised for the campaign could be diverted to arrange effective lobbying to restore state funding.
Also, they could form a foundation to raise voluntary donations for the college.
Considering the misrepresentations, how credible are the cries of doom if the tax fails? I’ve studied their budget and the base funding is surprisingly substantial and stable — there is no financial crisis at UNM-LA. Both Los Alamos and the college will do just fine if the levy fails.
How can we trust an institution which has pressed a misleading campaign and blew a ton of money on an unnecessary election, to responsibly handle a vast new tax windfall?
I urge all voters to support UNM-LA — at the current, very generous one mil level. Vote no.