Streetcar Fraud

Update 11/21/06: Thanks to a couple of observant readers who noticed that “500 adult residents” of ABQ should read “500k adult residents.” I have changed “500” to “half-million” for clarity. Thanks for the help.
My remarks at yesterday’s streetcar rally:
Last Wednesday the mayor’s spokesman wrote an opinion piece arguing for the streetcar initiative. The piece was an exercise in extreme sophistry (I thought perhaps it was satire when I first read it). That being so, I want to make three main points in rebuttal:
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: Streetcar Arithmetic in Wealth Transfer Terms
There is a blatant and unfair wealth transfer being disguised by the feel-good rhetoric of the mayor and streetcar proponents. The fiscal facts are being hidden from us. My conservative guesstimate of the total cost of this boondoggle will be around $500 million (including operation and maintenance over the years). Albuquerque has roughly a half-million adult residents. Divide $500 million by a half-million adult residents and you get an average up front cost of at least $1,000 per adult. That is the essence of the fiscal fraud. Who will benefit from this largess? Answer: the few businesses and government entities along Central Ave.
Why doesn’t the mayor make this wealth transfer clear to all? Suppose the mayor said “enough of this nonsense; we’ll just take $1,000 from each adult in ABQ, transfer half a billion dollars in hard cash to downtown and Nob Hill entities and let them choose how to spend it.” Do you really think the recipients would choose to give it to Greg Payne for a streetcar boondoggle? Absolutely not! So, here we are facing an absurd transfer of at least half a billion dollars to special interests who will not benefit by nearly that much. Similar comments apply to the mayor’s comparison of the streetcar to the “wildly successful roadrunner.” The Railrunner is a taxpayer rip-off. How long has it been since the mayor observed ridership on the Railrunner? Does he know what it is costing us? Wake up, Mr. Mayor, the people won’t be fooled this time.
Campaign Promise
The Mayor makes much of his campaign promise to give us a streetcar. But did he also not promise to be fiscally responsible? For example, I don’t recall him promising to raise our taxes by a lot to transfer wealth to a few. BTW, the mayor says he has “given us lots of roads.” He fails to mention, however, that it is actually you who have provided our new roads via your hard earned tax dollars. We could only hope that our generous-sounding mayor would personally give us lots of new roads, thereby saving us the expense.
Public Comment
In an effort to deflect criticism the mayor says we (the public) have had plenty of opportunity to comment. But did the mayor go to various neighborhood associations and explain the fiscal realities of the streetcar? Most citizens of our city just want to go about our daily business in the hope that our representatives are actually representing us. But they are not representing us; they are representing the special interests in downtown and Nob Hill while being quite vague about the fiscal impact on the rest of us. Unfortunately, this is not unusual in political process. A characteristic of representative democracy is the relative ease of giving concentrated benefits to a few when the costs are spread among many and thereby often unnoticed.
There is a certain big-government arrogance at play here, too: the mayor thinks he can make decisions about your life better than you can. The mayor seems to think that he knows what is best for us – just trust him. I don’t think that is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they established our “representative democracy.”
BTW, thanks to RGF president Paul Gessing for tracking down some fiscal realities of this boondoggle; and thanks to Jim Ludwick of the ABQ Journal for keeping us informed of the political maneuvering and statements as this proposal makes its way to the Council.