ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The voters were set to decide if Albuquerque gas tax should be increased by two cents to pay for road improvement, but Mayor Tim Keller has taken that off the table. In a statement Thursday, Mayor Keller said he vetoed the gas tax because the state is barely coming out of the pandemic, and it’s not the time to consider a gas tax hike.

However, it’s not lost on some voters that this year is also an election year for Mayor Keller. “A ploy might be too strong a word but election strategy, sure. Opposing a tax is always good electoral politics,” said an Albuquerque resident.

City councilors approved sending a gas tax hike to the voters in May. Sponsor Isaac Benton says the proposed extra two cents per gallon could take a big chunk out of the city’s road project backlog, which he says totals more than $15 million. However, the proposed hike would not have been on the ballot for another year and a half.

When councilors voted, they specifically said voters would not decide on a gas tax hike until November 2022. Republican City Councilor Brook Basaan thinks voters should be able to make their own choice, especially in a year and a half. “Hopefully by then, we will be pretty well on the road to recovery. We can’t just put life on hold, put the city on hold until everything is back to pre-pandemic because maybe it never will be,” said Basaan. “We have to be able to maintain our city. We have to be able to upkeep our city and some of the roads need improvements.”

When Mayor Tim Keller was running for office in 2017, he repeatedly said he thinks voters should decide on a gas tax. Now it appears he’s changed his tune.

The issue may not be dead. During last month’s original vote, city council passed the proposed gas tax on a 5-to4 vote. City council could override Mayor Keller’s veto if six councilors vote in favor of it, which means one could would have to change their mind.

KRQE News 13 reached out to City Councilor Isaac Benton’s office to see if he plans on holding a veto override vote but did not hear back.

Mayor Tim Keller’s Full Statement:

“The Duke City is climbing out of one of the worst economic crises in our lifetime. This is just not the time to entertain a gas tax while families and businesses are recovering from the pandemic, and when financial forecasting is uncertain. We believe in roads and infrastructure improvements and encourage the sponsors to work with the Administration on options down the road.” 

Tim Keller