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Getting Railroaded

Why does commuter rail funding get four times as much as our spaceport? Look at a map.

 

It's fairly common knowledge that the state of New Mexico suffers some from some misconceptions on the national level. Those Americans who realize we are indeed one of the 50 states, and that we finally have the marauding bands of savages under control, still have some geographical challenges to overcome. The whole state of New Mexico is defined by Santa Fe and Taos, and people fawn over the enchantment that fairly oozes from these mystical havens of enlightenment. People also recognize Albuquerque, if only due to the fact that Bugs Bunny always missed a left turn there. But all lands south are something of an enigma, not only to those in the other 49 states, but also to fellow New Mexicans living north of Socorro. We are all personae non gratae, like unrecognized cousins at the family barbecue who make the rest of the family uncomfortable. We are rarely allowed to forget our non-status, thanks to the state legislature, which continues to put the needs of the Norteños first. Just compare the way that the legislature handled the proposed Spaceport and New Mexico's first mass transit rail system, the Rail Runner.

Public transportation is a solution to a problem that is rarely seen in our dusty desert lands, but it seems people are experiencing traffic problems up north. For most of us here, "rush hour" is when a person achieves a sublime balance between the perfect margarita and a specific hour dedicated to witnessing another surreal Technicolor sunset. Up north, it is the two times a day every man, woman and child gets behind the wheel of his or her own vehicle and drives to the Interstate to park for awhile. To relieve this problem, state legislators decided to establish a public-transit train system to run between Santa Fe and Belen, depositing and picking up worker bees at the Duke City to relieve highway traffic. A noble idea with a noble cost: $393 million, as of January. For those of you keeping score at home, that's about $160 for every single person in the Land of Enchantment. To be fair, $75 million of this amount will be paid by the feds if the state meets certain criteria, which I'm sure we won't. Called
the Rail Runner, the train will be modern, clean and reliable, and will have a strict "no-drunken-bums" policy. As a New Mexican, I am proud to be a part of this investment in our state's glorious future.

Speaking of glorious futures, maybe you recall hearing about the proposed New Mexico spaceport, in these very pages not too many issues ago. Although Governor Richardson hasn't called me for my opinion, I am a supporter of this kind of wild-eyed speculative economic development. (I think we should name the spaceport "Mos Eisley," but that would be too geeky.) Apparently, the same legislators who signed off on the Rail Runner support the spaceport, too, just to a lesser extent. Much lesser, in fact: The state is coughing up $100 million toward a project projected to cost around $225 million. In a separate measure, the state has authorized neighboring communities and counties to impose additional gross receipts taxes to provide the additional spaceport funding.

So allow me to put all the rellenos on the table here: Every New Mexican gets to pay for a railway system used by a few to reduce congestion on a couple very specific roads in the Albuquerque area, impacting a fraction of the state's citizens. But only the sparsely populated areas of Southern New Mexico are being asked to pick up the tab for an economic development project that will benefit the entire state? Lightcap's solar calculator predicts that every person in the south, from Rodeo to Jal, will be on the hook for about $250. Our northern buddies can use their $250 to buy 42 six-packs of Bud Light, or 90 gallons of gas, or 46 Double LotaBurgers, or 83 Rail Runner tickets.

The point is probably moot, anyway: If the south is asked to approve an increase in gross receipts tax to fund a spaceport, it will undoubtedly meet the same doom as whatever toady the Republicans try to run against Richardson this fall. Where will that leave the spaceport? Who knows, but you can bet your bippie that the Roundhouse won't be filled with cries of retroactive parity or fiscal generosity.

Personally, I think it's wonderful that the estimated 12,000 commuters from Valencia County who have to drive to Albuquerque each day will have a viable alternative to their private, comfy, air-conditioned automobiles. And I'm sure at least 200 will avail themselves of rail travel, postponing further expansion of area highways. However, and if you'll pardon the pun, I feel the south has been railroaded, especially in light of the fabulous costs and the comparative way the spaceport funding was handled. If the Roundhouse Retards want us to secede and join Texas, I suppose I could learn to speak the lingo and learn to drive like an idiot. Heck, they don't even have to pay a state income tax in Texas, and they have much better professional sports teams anyway. But I'd rather remain a New Mexican, and hope that the people of the north remember the people of the south when it comes to statewide investment. I think that train's already left the station, though.

 

The only thing Las Cruces-based Henry Lightcap likes
about Santa Fe is Santa Fe Pale Ale.

 

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