Budget Season – GRT Increment

Los Alamos


I’ve struggled for several days with how to approach the proposed GRT increment, given how little it was publicized in the weeks leading up to budget hearings and how deep you have to dig into the documentation to really understand what’s going on.  My general budget questions will come later.

The Chair’s letter to the community mentioned the GRT increase in passing, as a single sentence in the fifth paragraph of an uninflected summary, given equal importance as the number of FTE planned for FY24.  If the goal was to meaningfully engage the community in their own governance through “education” and “outreach” as an alternative to transparency, this was not a very strong attempt.  While I am not necessarily opposed to this (or some) increase in municipal GRT, it impacts the entire community and should be part of a broad, proactive conversation. 

As I have talked to people about this over the last couple of weeks, they a) are surprised and ask “why haven’t I heard about this?” and b) default to knee jerk reactions.  Yes taxes!  No taxes!  Fear of LANL funding changes!  More amenities!  Austerity!  

Again, I am not necessarily against an increase in municipal GRT, but it should not be lost in the noise of a massive budget that raises many other questions.

Here are my two recommendations: 1) assemble and distribute a detailed FAQ about the proposed GRT increase. Examples of questions at the end of this email. 

2) be proactive and deliberate in your efforts to involve the public in this decision, including acknowledging that it comes as a surprise to many people and articulating a clear plan to hear from the public before decisions are made.  

I am aware that the limit of 30 minutes of comment per session for the budget hearings is historical, but I think it would be wise to allow the public to speak fully on the final day of hearings and to announce in advance when that will be.  In other words, please commit to voting no sooner than Tuesday April 25.*  Just as Council has to hear all the presentations before making decisions, so does the public.  

I want to hear what staff has to say.  I want to hear what Council has to say.  I want to hear what other members of the community have to say.  I want to have time to digest the information before weighing in on whether, how much, and how quickly I think local GRT should be increased.

Most importantly, I want to know that Council will give the public a serious opportunity to weigh in before making decisions.

The budget is the heaviest lift of the year.  It is also Council’s most impactful responsibility.  When you applied for the job, you knew what you were getting into, but, still, it is a lot.  Those of us who follow closely appreciate the time, attention, and effort it takes to appropriately serve the community in this process. 

Possible FAQ

Why do we need the increase?  What are “increased labor costs” mentioned in Attachment E page 6?  Increase to minimum wage?  Is it wage increases to help with recruitment and retention?  Is it hiring more staff?  Which staff and why are they essential enough to raise taxes?  

What’s up with the “projected major decline in GRT revenue in future years”?  Obviously this is LANL-related, but “Attachment N-10 year projections” shows a GRT dip, with revenues projected to come back up in 2030 and beyond.  If we stash our surplus in “unassigned funds,” why do we think we cannot ride out a projected dip in GRT?  

How reliable are the numbers so far out?  Historically, how close have our estimates been to the actuals at a 5-10 year projection?  

Where can people go to find a concise and readable summary of expenses so they can play “what should we cut to make up for it” on their own?  

What are the actual anticipated monetary impacts of the increase on low-income people in our community?  [My back of the napkin math shows it’s actually not tremendous, but GRT is regressive, so this is worth talking about.]

If Council does not adopt the proposed increase or adopts a smaller increase, what will change in the proposed budget to account for it?


*I feel this is a great opportunity to remind Council that having in place an email-based public comment process similar to the School Board would do a lot to alleviate the time pressure of live comment.