All Aboard Mayor Marty’s Crazy Train?

Last night, I attended one of the City of Albuquerque’s meetings on Mayor Chavez’s so-called “Modern Streetcar Project.” It wasn’t so much a meeting involving give-and-take between community leaders and residents as it was a sales pitch from the City’s Transit Department and the HDR Company which will manage the project.
There was a 30-minute powerpoint presentation and a Q & A session, which did feature lively debate, but the only elected official who actually showed up, Councilman Heinrich, left immediately after making a short introduction. Most of the attendees appeared skeptical of the $224 million project and justifiably so. Although this meeting was designed to convey the sense that this project is a “done-deal,” information on expected ridership numbers, operating costs and subsidies, fares, and operating hours was in short supply.
A few things struck me as particularly troubling:
First and foremost, Heinrich and others constantly compared the $224 million streetcar to the Big I interchange reconstruction which cost $230 million to complete. There is no doubt that the Big I carries exponentially more people and goods than the streetcar will ever carry.
Secondly, while the Mayor’s trolley will be paid for by all taxpayers whether they ride or not, the Big I was largely paid for by motorists and truckers themselves through gas taxes and other fees. There simply is no comparison between the two projects as far as importance to the community is concerned.
Lastly, the people pushing this project say Portland is supposed to be our model. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Albuquerque is only 60 percent as dense as Portland and Albuquerque’s metropolitan area has only 40 percent as many people (797,000 as compared to 2 million).
I’m really only scratching the surface of the arguments against this and other rail projects, but as was made clear last night, we won’t have a chance to vote on this. Pressuring City Council to oppose this boondoggle is the only way to stop it.

Governor Richardson’s Eminent Domain Task Force to Hold Public Meeting, Take Comments

It is important for opponents of eminent domain to attend the meeting this Thursday of the Governor’s Eminent Domain Task Force. This will be the only opportunity that the public will get to express their opposition to eminent domain abuse.
Pertinent information is as follows: The meeting will be held at 4:00 PM on September 28th (this Thursday) at the Village Hall in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. The Village Hall is located at 6718 Rio Grande Blvd. NW.
The purpose of the meeting is to allow members of the public to provide comments and suggestions to the Task Force. The Task Force was convened by Governor Bill Richardson following the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, to study the adequacy of New Mexico’s eminent domain laws and determine whether there is currently sufficient legislative protection to prevent the abusive use of eminent domain for economic development purposes.
If you are unable to attend the open meeting, please send comments to the Task Force via mail, fax, or the Governor’s website as follows:
Mail: Governor Bill Richardson
Attn: Task Force on the Responsible Use of Eminent Domain
State Capitol Building, Suite 400
Santa Fe , NM 87501
Fax: (505) 476-2207
Website: http://www.governor.state.nm.us (click on contact the Governor)
Questions concerning the Task Force can be directed to the Governor’s Office at 476-2200.

Is the Bloom off the Rail Runner?

Despite the fact that I live nowhere near a Rail Runner station and have no real need to ride the thing, I decided to take a ride on the train this morning to see how ridership is holding up. As you may know, the train is still “free,” at least in the sense that it costs nothing to get on, but that will change in mid-October.
Anyway, I took the train from Journal Center northbound at 7:46am and found that the crowds have thinned out considerably as compared to what I’d read in early news reports about the throngs of people aboard. Despite the fact that there were only two cars on the train, I had my own row and there were less than 25 passengers on my car.
When I got off at the 550/Sandoval station, a handful (less than 5) people got off who looked like they were going to work. Most of the rest of the people seemed to be waiting either on or near the train for the trip south. Clearly, 2 months in, a large percentage of the train’s passengers are joyriders.
On the way back south on the 8:20am train, I switched cars and counted 10 passengers on board. When I got back off at the Journal Center station, there were between 10 and 15 people getting on to go downtown, but by no means was the train going to be crowded.
Another sign of the Rail Runner’s declining popularity was abundant parking — the lots at 550/Sandoval and Journal Center were at most half full.
So, what does this all mean? Just that before millions of additional taxpayer dollars are spent on laying Rail Runner track to Santa Fe, perhaps we should more honestly assess whether these trains more resemble shiny new toys that will actually harm our overall transportation network or whether they are in fact serious efforts to better move people from place to place.

Wal-Mart Again Helps Low-Income (not to mention middle and upper income) Americans

I just loved this little blurb from Grace-Marie Turner at the Galen Institute: Wal-Mart announced yesterday that it will soon offer a 30-day supply of nearly 300 generic medicines for just $4 each. Target quickly followed, and surely Walgreens and others will be close behind. Who says that competition doesn’t work?
Wal-Mart’s program is starting in Tampa Bay and will include the entire state of Florida by January, then spread to stores around the country.
Not to be outdone, Target announced it is matching Wal-Mart’s prices in Tampa Bay first, with other stores to follow. Three cheers for Wal-Mart for getting this started!
Generics already are cheaper in the U.S. than in Canada, so how long do you think it will be before we have Canadians coming to the U.S. to get their prescriptions filled here?

What of this Energy Bill?

There is a lot of talk about the 2005 Energy Bill that passed Congress and the campaign ads in which Patty Madrid criticized Heather Wilson for voting for a bill that contained $2.6 billion in subsidies for the oil industry. Wilson defenders have hit back saying that the Energy Bill was “good for New Mexico” and that all five members of the New Mexico delegation voted for the bill.
So, what is the real story? Well, Dr. Harry Messenheimer recently cut through a little of the confusion by putting “a pox on both houses” by criticizing both politicians for their disinformation about gas prices and the energy industry in general. But, there is even more meat on this bone.
First and foremost, yes, there were very real subsidies in the Energy Bill. In fact, the Energy Bill was far more costly than the $2.2 billion received by the oil industry. The real cost of the Energy Bill is closer to $74 billion. Unfortunately for Madrid, much of that money was spent on nuclear energy, “clean coal,” and the development of “next generation” energy sources.
Is this good for New Mexico? After all, New Mexico is a big producer of energy. Any economist worth his or her salt would say “no, let the market decide.” First and foremost, people need energy from all sources, the only thing subsidies do is alter which form of energy is used and artificially raise or lower demand. Unless the bill specifically encouraged use of energy sources from New Mexico at the expense of other sources of energy, there is no net benefit to the state.
Unfortunately, in New Mexico, the concept of a “free market” might be as rare as a saguaro cactus sighting is within our borders.

Mayor Marty’s Latest Big Idea

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez is acting as if the city itself won the latest lottery jackpot. A week ago he introduced plans for a new, taxpayer-backed downtown sports arena, now he is pushing his latest big-budget idea, a so-called “modern streetcar” running along Central Avenue from Old Town to Nob Hill and from Central Avenue to the Sunport.” (I urge you to check the previous link to the schedule of “town hall” meetings the Mayor is holding on this project and to attend and speak your mind as I will)
Never mind that the cost for this system would be $240 million (split evenly betwen the city and the state) and that although the Mayor has repeatedly called the system “modern streetcar,” it is really just a light rail system that brings all the costs and problems of light rail (cost overruns, slowness of service, and clogged streets among the prominent issues).
Beyond all of the problems associated with light rail is the question that must be asked, “Why do we need light rail running down Central Avenue when the Rapid Ride serves the same purpuse at a much lower cost?” Instead of blowing $240 million on a shiny new toy, Mayor Marty should consider ways to expand bus service to serve more people at a far lower cost, or he should do nothing and let taxpayers keep some of their hard-earned money for a change.

Local Taxman Out of Control

The results are in and it appears that you can fool some of the people all of the time, or at least 58 percent of them anyway. Now, we turn our attention to the so-called quality of life tax increase that will face voters in November.
For more on the deluge of tax hikes that are falling on taxpayers in Bernalillo County and Albuquerque like the monsoon rains did earlier this year, check out this recent missive from the Rio Grande Foundation on the web-magazine The Citizen. By the way, if you are a close follower of the news, especially what happens here in New Mexico, but the Tribune and Journal leave you feeling less-than-fully-informed, I highly recommend bookmarking The Citizen.

The Albuquerque Journal Endorses a “Kooky, Radical Idea”

It really shouldn’t be such a radical, nor should it be such an uphill push in Congress, but it is good to see the Albuquerque Journal throwing its considerable weight behind more transparency in government.
Speaking of “transparency,” although I can’t say for sure whether the Republican Party’s lawsuit on biased location of early voting stations has merit, it seems pretty obvious that locating an early polling station in the Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters for the September 19 school tax hike is a transparently political move. I’m not sure how this problem can be solved, but ways to improve neutrality in voting sites should be considered.