Project Funding to be Decided After President-Elect Takes Office
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
There won’t be any money from the U.S. Congress this year for Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit project.
House Speaker Paul Ryan announced on Nov. 17 that Republicans would pass a continuing resolution during the lame-duck session to fund the government through March when it will consider a spending plan by the Trump administration.
That means Congress won’t be debating President Obama’s proposed budget, which includes $69 million for ART.
The continuing resolution will most likely keep federal spending levels at 2015-2016 levels, and there’s no money for ART in that budget, said Don Hancock, a member of the University Heights Neighborhood Association, who follows congressional budgetary matters.
The Federal Transit Administration has yet to approve ART for actual funding, but Berry’s administration started construction on ART in October with $30 million in other federal grants received in previous years. Joan Griffin, a private contractor who is doing public relations work for ART, said city officials believe they can get some ART money out of the continuing resolution.
“The continuing resolution may allow for funding of some FTA-funded infrastructure projects,” Griffin said. “Mayors from cities with Small Starts grants are working on this specific request with Congress.” She added that the city will continue to use previous FTA and highway grants to keep construction going.
Former City Councilor and ART opponent Pete Dinelli said Congress’ decision to not consider Obama’s budget further jeopardizes the bulk of ART’s funding and places the project at serious risk.
“The mayor should order an immediate cessation of the project until they have a definitive statement whether or not the money is forthcoming,” Dinelli said. “You have a mayor that has been gambling on getting a federal grant that is in total jeopardy.”
Meanwhile, business owners along Central Avenue who counted on getting forgivable loans to offset their losses due to ART construction might not get them.
That’s because the city has less than $100,000 available in a fund for loans to those businesses, and that money won’t be available until March, which one business owner said will be too late. The $100,000 is far less than the $2.5 million the city originally said it had hoped to make available for loans.
City Councilor Ken Sanchez, who has been criticized for his support of ART, said he was shocked when he learned how little was in the loan fund. He said he learned that not through the mayor of Municipal Development Department but only after making a request directly to the city’s Economic Development Department.
“It’s astonishing because we anticipated $2 million,” Sanchez told ABQ Free Press Weekly. “We were talking $2 million.”
Sanchez added that if each loan were the proposed $10,000, the city would have enough money to “help 7.69 businesses.” The New Mexico Restaurant Association, which opposes the project, says 100 of its members along Central are negatively affected by ART construction.
Sanchez said he was told by city officials they are still trying to raise money for the loan fund, but he questioned the appropriateness of the effort.
One Central Avenue business owner was furious that the city had so little money in the loan fund.
“They want us to wait and prove that we have been hurt. I and everyone along this corridor has had a drop in business,” said Patrick Frey, owner of the BZ Skateshop at 3019 Central Ave. NE.
“By March we might not have sidewalks in front of our building. They want us to prove that they made us go out of business, and by the time we need the money we’ll be hanging on by a thread and won’t be able to do anything with it.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly. Reach him at email@example.com