Gross receipts tax our choice of poison

Freedom New Mexico

Studies accepted by city leaders predict Clovis residents will run out of water in about two decades, if not sooner.

No one has shown any proof to dispute this dire prediction, though some studies guess the water won’t dry up for a decade or so longer. But there certainly is no debate the Ogallala aquifer, our underground water source, is being depleted rapidly.

The only long-term solution anyone has proposed is to build a pipeline from Ute Lake, near Tucumcari.

We agree, and it must be built soon, or we run the risk of losing our community.

The question is how to pay the $13 million local share of this $500 million project.

The answer will become more evident on May 3 when city voters decide whether to approve a proposed quarter-percent gross receipts tax increase to fund Clovis’ share.

Must they approve this new tax? No, but a GRT increase may be the cheapest way for most people to pay their share.

If the GRT increase is defeated, make no mistake, we will find our pockets emptied another way to cover that $13 million expense.

The most likely scenarios are:

• Pass the GRT increase, which means 25 cents of every $100 purchase of taxable goods goes to the pipeline construction fund. It will be paid by every person shopping in the city limits, no matter where they live.

• If the GRT hike fails, the City Commission could increase property taxes, which directly burden only property owners. For a $100,000 home, the additional tax per year would be about $66 in a two-mill election.

• Our city leaders could also increase the franchise fee that water distributor New Mexico American Water pays. That certainly would be passed down in the form of higher water bills.

The language of the GRT ballot question limits it to paying only for the pipeline, and sunsets this tax in 10 years.

Long ago, of course, our city leaders could and should have found other ways to pay the project’s local share. If they had acted sooner — like, say, 20 years ago when we first realized this need, they might have already collected the entire amount of the city’s share for the Ute pipeline.

For example, they could have decided recently not to spend money on golf courses, soccer fields, walking paths, a dog park, a zoo, swimming pools, a civic center, and countless other “quality of life” amenities. That they didn’t means the niceties were more important than the essential element, water.

Or officials could have capped expenses and spent more current tax revenues on the pipeline. Instead, they increased general-budget expenditures more than $6 million, or 28 percent, the past six years.

Clovis’ city payroll alone has jumped $6.2 million since 2005. Yes, it helped stabilize the police and fire forces and stopped rampant turnover. But in tough times, most of us manage our household budgets more responsibly.

We don’t raise our pay, we set aside money to pay the mortgage and buy groceries. We fill the car up with gas and pay the insurance and then, if there’s any money left over, we see a movie or take a vacation.

Our city government’s fiscal approach has felt like: “Buy the fun stuff first. Don’t worry about the essentials. Taxpayers won’t have a choice. They’ll sacrifice their movie money and vacation dollars to pay for water.”

We think voters should be outraged that our leaders have given us so few options over the years. Now we are at crunch time.

Is it too late to do anything about it? Probably.

Therefore, we conclude the best choice you can make May 3 is to pick the least painful poison. Do you want a higher gross receipts tax for 10 years paid for by every shopper, or do you want only homeowners and New Mexico American Water customers to shoulder the $13 million burden?

We choose the GRT poison. More people share the load to protect our future.

And our future requires water brought here by an 80-mile pipeline.