The regular legislative session is over, the special legislative session is behind us, the good guys won the soda-tax smackdown, the gas-tax attack is on hiatus, and the summer doldrums are almost here.
So the next big policy discussion in the Land of Enchantment will explore Albuquerque’s future. The Duke City will get a new chief executive in October, and voters will make their calls on five of nine city council seats. Containing a quarter of the state’s population, and influencing fiscal and economic conditions statewide in a huge way, Albuquerque is the big dog of municipalities in the Land of Enchantment. Accordingly, the Rio Grande Foundation is preparing guides to the issues facing citizens of the Duke City this fall — poring over budget documents, economic statistics, employee collective-bargaining agreements, and comprehensive annual financial reports.
Here’s a good place to start: realistic, coherent, and easy-to-assess goals. At a recent forum for mayoral hopefuls, Wayne Johnson, currently a commissioner for Bernalillo County, announced that was “not trying to give you bold solutions, or, as I call them, BS” — a reference to fellow candidate, City Councilor Dan Lewis, whose platform extols “bold, new solutions.”
The Foundation understands where Johnson’s coming from. “Visionary” government is plaguing the Duke City. Take a look at the “City of Albuquerque Vision, Goal Areas, Goal Statements and Desired Community or Customer Conditions.” It’s a list of objectives “established with the input of … residents.” Some of the goals are reasonable. It’s tough to argue with: “Government is ethical, transparent, and responsive to its citizens. Every element of government contributes effectively to meeting public needs.”
Others goals are problematic. “Communities throughout Albuquerque are livable, sustainable, and vital” leaves much to interpretation. (And activists’ opportunism.) Ensuring that all Albuquerqueans are “healthy” and “educated” is creepy and bizarre. (Isn’t government education Albuquerque Public Schools‘ job? And what legitimate role does city government play in making sure you exercise daily and eat your vegetables?)
The goals are dubious — the “Desired Community or Customer Conditions” are close to comical. Seeing to it that the public “feels safe”? Making high-speed Internet “accessible and affordable”? Providing “a mixture of densities, land uses, and pedestrian friendly environments”? Offering “integrated transportation options”?
When a government draws up grandiose plans and dreams, mission creep is sure to follow. The “City of Albuquerque Vision, Goal Areas, Goal Statements and Desired Community or Customer Conditions” is both overweening and vague, and it’s an invitation to concoct expensive and doomed-to-fail projects such as Albuquerque Rapid Transit.
More than anything else, the Duke City’s decisionmakers need to relentlessly focus on reducing the cost of government, reviving the economy, and fighting crime. To pursue those challenging — but achievable — goals, it would helpful to downsize and clarify the objectives Albuquerque “public servants” claim to work to achieve.