State Auditor Wayne Johnson on Thursday ordered the city of Albuquerque to hire a private firm to do a special audit the $135 million Albuquerque Rapid Transit project to determine whether the city broke any local or federal laws in proceeding with the project.
“The City’s spending and financing of the troubled A.R.T. project has raised serious issues that are ripe for investigation,” Johnson said in announcing the special audit. “We have directed the City to engage the services of an independent public accountant to conduct the special audit. While I recognize that the City’s independent Inspector General is also conducting a review of the project, it is clear that the gravity of the current situation and concerns raised warrant a special audit conducted by an independent accountant, in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars have not been misspent.”
Johnson said the A.R.T. project has been the subject of numerous complaints recently, including issues with federal funds that have not materialized, and whether other funds were improperly diverted to complete the project.
“We expect the special audit to be initiated quickly, and to proceed in a timely manner so that we get answers to the myriad of unanswered questions about the A.R.T. project, and can transparently share those findings with the public,” Johnson said. “We have to get to the bottom of this issue to provide the kind of accountability that taxpayers should expect from government.”
On Wednesday, Mayor Tim Keller announced that the city's Inspector General had launched an investigation into ART, a nine-mile bus route down Central Avenue. It's not clear when that probe will be completed.
ART was pushed by former Mayor Richard Berry over the objections of business owners along the route, and residents who live in neighborhoods along the route. But those objections were ignored and Berry pushed the project, which has dedicated bus lanes in the middle of Central, through.
But ART has been a mess. The Federal Transit Administration has yet to approve the project, and the city has yet to get the $75 million in federal grants for the project it was hoping for. As a result, the city has had to find $75 million to pay the project prime contractor, Bradbury Stamm.
Keller has said that Berry's administration left hundreds of city jobs vacant over the years and used that saved money to pay for ART.
And now, city councilors are looking to raise the gross receipts tax rate in the city by another three-eights-of-a-cent, or $55 million a year. Critics of the proposed tax increase say the botched ART project is one reason for the proposed tax increase.
And last month, Keller said ART was a lemon that has so many problems that it might not be operational for another year.