There Are Better Ideas Than Today’s Special Election Ballot Offers

The New Mexican 

The rhetoric is still rolling in as Tuesday’s vote nears for the Workforce Housing Initiative – the one, which approved, would put a 1 percent tax on real-estate transfers worth more than $750,000. And while both sides of the issue seem sincere, Santa Feans still must wade with caution through the claims being made :If we don’t approve the tax, will we be letting a bunch of Wall Street raiders off the hook as they flock to Santa Fe with their ill-gotten gains, which we heard from the “yes” side?

If we do approve it, will we be socking it to some not-so-rich folks whose homes soared in value during the 1990s speculation wave, and which remain, at still-high rates, their main hope for retirement?

Neither argument stands up to scrutiny – and the same can be said for lots of the classist mudslinging that’s gone on during the long run-up to this election.

Both sides tend to agree that Santa Fe still needs more affordable housing. The “yes” bloc, claiming that every dime raised by a transfer tax on high-end real estate will go into such things as down-payment assistance and other actual help into homes, figures that whatever amount this tax gets is better than nothing.

On the “no” side are the scant sales of homes at $750,000-plus prices. And since the tax is 1 percent beginning at $750,001, this will raise precious little revenue.

Yes, say the “yessers,” but when the housing market rebounds, there’ll be lots more sales at more than three-quarters of a million – so in the future, this will prove to be a good tax.

But that’s pie in the sky, argue the tax’s opponents – and to impose it now would be yet another straw on the back of an almost-broken camel.

We’ve listened, fascinated, to those points and many others – and there’s lots to like about, well, lots that each side has to say. That includes notions that people in cheaper homes already pay a disproportionate amount of tax that the rich always seem to be able to dodge – so nail ’em now …

By all means; but there are too few of them, so – say the editorial “we” – the target ought to be bigger: Tax all real-estate transactions, and do it in the manner of the income tax: less than a percent at the bottom, and more than a percent in the higher ranges.

Limiting this tax to the big sales is only the most obvious problem with the city’s proposal. The city limits are another: A transfer tax should apply to the suburbs, where there’s plenty to tax, and where the need for affordable housing is at least as great as it is in town.

And it goes farther than that: As Santa Fe’s Rep. Jim Trujillo notes, there’s a statewide New Mexico Affordable Housing Trust Fund – which might be boosted by a legislative proposal to tack a $30 processing fee on recording of legal documents.

Whatever happens to that idea, Rep. Trujillo and Albuquerque Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino might be onto something: an across-the-board revenue measure to meet New Mexico’s affordable-housing challenge. It might need refining; it might need raising – to a reasonable point where it would help close the affordable-housing gap. But already it’s better thought out than the soak-the-rich, spank-the-speculators measure on Tuesday’s ballot.

The City Council played with the transfer tax for two years – and this is the best our elected leaders could come up with? Santa Feans response to it should be “no.”