Commentary; The County Commission got a redo on rural buses Tuesday – and did what seems the right thing. Last meeting, dozens who wanted to speak didn't get the chance.
Tuesday turned into a rather wonderful moment. More than three dozen people spoke, including bus-riders speaking Spanish, several elected officials, and dedicated non-profit leaders. None opposed transit. We marveled at the variety of speakers, the power of their words, and the moving human stories.
A 27-year Anthony resident recalled being pregnant and unable to reach doctors in Las Cruces or buy medicine: “This service is very important to me. Please don't take it away!”
A lifelong county resident, Dr. Leti Mora, recalled that as a child in the 1960's she suffered severe eye problems requiring numerous surgeries. She used an old county bus service to reach doctors. Unfortunately, the bus ran just once a day. She and her mother had to spend a whole day in Las Cruces waiting for the return bus. During their long absence, her father suffered a stroke in their home. Had they returned earlier, he might have been saved from such complete paralysis.
A 97-year-old man thanked the drivers, said “God Bless” everyone, and sweetly called for unity.
State Senator Jeff Steinborn noted that 39% of our county's children live in poverty, compared to 22% nationwide.
City Councilor Gill Sorg said we needed the buses “for the poor, so they can rise out of poverty.” State Representative Nathan Small said that funding transit “would leave a better legacy,” adding, “If it's not working the way it should, make it better.”
The previous meeting was highly unpleasant. This was less so. Credit the passion of people who were angry they couldn't speak at the last meeting; but credit also the new county commissioners: they listened courteously to a parade of people hoping to preserve the buses. Chair Isobella Solis, disagreed with the speakers, but heard them out. For an hour and forty minutes.
After lunch Billy Garrett moved to reinsert the transit $350,00 into the preliminary budget. John Vasquez seconded it, but noted he's still not persuaded that the buses are efficient and effective. (He'll give folks a chance to convince him, from 10-11 a.m. daily at the Ledesma Center, at 5745 Ledesma Drive.) Ramon Gonzalez joined them for a 3-2 vote.
Folks for or against transit should visit Vasquez. All of us should thank Vasquez and Gonzalez for their willingness to be persuaded by their constituents.
The naysayers – Ben Rawson and Solis – advance two basic arguments: that the voters' rejection in 2016 of a tax increase to fund a $10 million bus system tied commissioners' hands, at least ethically; and unspecified mismanagement or inefficiency. If management problems got you defunded, several county departments would be gone already. The Commission should discuss its questions / complaints / suggestions with the transit board, and seek improvement – not blow up the whole thing.
And it's dishonest to claim the 2016 vote controls. If the voters had rejected a special tax to buy DASO $5 million worth of training cars and protective vests, would the commissioners have rejected Tuesday DASO's request for $350,000 for that? No. Nor should they. Many who voted against the tax because of cost might recognize the need to support a more modest system and see how it grows. Even Solis says she's not against public transit.
I'm glad our commission voted to spend $1.75 per person next year – less than the price of a cup of coffee these days – on a really worthy effort. I hope they stick to that.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.]
[This is the announcement on the county's website regarding Mr. Vasquez's daily "Coffee with the Commissioner" sessions. I'll go one morning this week.]
[Folks concerned about the buses should probably mark 25 July on their calendars. I've no reason to think commissioners will change their minds on this; but it happens.]