CIDC director touting new “quality of life tax”

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

Economic development dollars are available to New Mexico communities for industrial plants that bring in new economies. Chase Gentry and others across the state want those dollars to enhance what’s already there, as well.

Gentry has been touting a “quality of life tax” at recent public meetings. It would be an expansion of the way economic development dollars can be used. Such a change would require Legislature approval in 2010, at the earliest.

The idea is to allow money currently set aside for drawing in industry and manufacturing to also be allowed for drawing in or enhancing retail businesses.

Gentry is executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, which is part of the Eastern New Mexico Economic Development Alliance.

Gentry and the alliance are spearheading the legislation. But some of the bill’s central points have little to do with Clovis and Portales.

“What it was about,” said state Sen. Clinton Harden, R-Clovis, who carried the legislation forward in this year’s legislative session, “was to find a revenue stream to bring in refrigeration equipment to grocery stores in rural areas.”

Senate Bill 264, titled “Economic Development Project Requirements,” passed the Senate by a 35-0 margin but never got to a vote in the House.

The legislation was something former Rep. Brian K. Moore, R-Clayton, had worked on before he retired. He asked Harden to keep the legislation on the table.

Moore, who owns and operates a grocery story in Clayton, contended towns like Vaughn could use economic development dollars on a grocery store’s refrigeration systems. This way, residents wouldn’t have to pick between driving an hour to buy produce in a bigger city’s grocery store or settling for junk food available at a local gas station.

Gentry said he and others in the ENMEDA are working on the bill to allow for different definitions of quality of life, whether it’s dollars for a grocery story in Vaughn, tourism dollars in Taos or retail dollars in Clovis.

A T-shirt maker, Gentry postulated, could currently receive economic development aid to build a shirt manufacturing plant on the outskirts of the city. But that aid couldn’t help the same company create an outlet store on Main Street to sell those shirts.

“When you look at retail, retail’s a spinoff,” Gentry said. “It doesn’t bring in new dollars, but it enhances economy.”

Harden said he’s hopeful the legislation can get through next year’s 30-day session if it’s appropriate under budgetary matters.

The fiscal report on the 2009 legislation said it had no additional fiscal impact for the state, and Harden would want that to stay true for an updated bill next year.