Tax-Funded Spaceport was never a Good Idea

The recent crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip2 in the Mojave Desert was a tragedy for the pilot that lost his life in the accident. It was also a setback for Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic, and the entire private space industry. However, for New Mexico taxpayers, it was only the latest and most vivid sign that building a Spaceport was not a wise use of tax dollars.

The transition from publicly-funded space travel (NASA) to a competitive, private-sector model was destined to be choppy and unpredictable. It is very much an open question how humans will travel safely and regularly into space in private spacecraft.

Even NASA with its multi-billion dollar budgets never quite figured out how to get humans back and forth form space routinely and regularly. The Space Shuttle was originally intended to launch as frequently as once a week. That didn’t come close to happening even in the best of times.

This all leads us to New Mexico where, at the behest of then Gov. Bill Richardson, our Legislature embarked our state upon a spaceport construction project at a cost to taxpayers of $220 million and counting.

A decade after this project was undertaken we have no idea what technologies will be used to fly people to space, whether companies can make space tourism profitable, and whether New Mexicans will benefit economically even if the space tourism industry succeeds.

Unfortunately, while Branson, Rutan, and other space pioneers are putting their own money and reputations on the line to make their space enterprises successful, the folks who unwisely got New Mexico into this mess cannot be held accountable and will suffer no personal losses from their actions.

Bill Richardson is not lying awake at night wondering if New Mexico’s Spaceport succeeds and I know of no legislator or other elected official who lost their race due to their unwise “investment” in the Spaceport.

This is where the Spaceport goes from isolated mistake to cautionary tale. The Spaceport has proven to be a spectacular failure in large part because the people behind it didn’t have any “skin” in the game. This lack of consequences leaves politicians to make decisions based on all manner of personal and political desires.

That is not to say that private sector entrepreneurs don’t fail. Indeed, if you know anything about Steve Jobs, he failed time and again as do most entrepreneurs. But they have their own money at stake and thus have the incentive to make better bets and only make bets they expect to succeed.

Just as governments should not kill businesses through high taxes and onerous regulations, government should not attempt to place bets using tax dollars on favored industries or technologies.

The Spaceport is only the most vivid failure of such government overreach in New Mexico, but we see the Rail Runner piling up ongoing losses and massive “balloon payments” due in the not-too-distant future.

The film industry which the economically-ignorant cite as a great success has actually lost $147 million for taxpayers since 2010 according to the New Mexico Legislature’s own study.

In recent years, taxpayers have also lost $16 million in subsidies for Schott Solar and $19 million Eclipse Aviation.

These wasted tax dollars could have been returned to real New Mexico entrepreneurs in the form of tax cuts to produce jobs and a real economic stimulus to our state. Instead, those scarce dollars have been – and in the cases of the Rail Runner and film subsidies – continue to reduce our prosperity by taking money out of entrepreneurs’ pockets and allocating it to less productive uses.

The good news is that Gov. Martinez doesn’t seem inclined to grandiose spending on spaceports and trains. Hopefully, New Mexicans have learned an important lesson about the promises of politicians and, rather than government micromanagement of our economy – a tendency that has led us to our impoverished state – will support government as referee, not coach.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

Health care market isn’t a free one

The following article by Dr. Deane Waldman appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on November 16, 2014. RGF president Paul Gessing offered his own thoughts on the Think New Mexico proposal in this blog posting.

Recently in the Journal, my friend and colleague Dr. Barry Ramo spoke glowingly of Think New Mexico’s plan to improve health care in the Land of Enchantment. Unfortunately, the plan, hatched by our own homegrown policy think tank, is off base.

In fact, it brings to mind the famous aphorism, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Think New Mexico is smoothing our way to a blisteringly hot place where we do not want to go.

Their plan advocates enactment of new rules and regulations to:


1. “Require transparency of hospital prices and risk-adjusted quality indicators…”
2. “Outlaw price discrimination…”
3. “Prohibit gag clauses…”
4. “Seek a federal waiver so that Medicaid will pay the same prices as private payers.”

The people at Think New Mexico say they want to restore free market forces with its manifold advantages to the “market” of New Mexico health care.

Freeing the market in health care is a very good idea. What they propose is the opposite.

A highly regulated, tightly controlled free market is a contradiction in terms. You either control a market or let it do its thing. Note the action verbs in Think New Mexico’s first three proposals: require, outlaw and prohibit. They are about as controlling as any words I know.

In the free market, there are no external controls on the two players: Consumers choose to spend or not, and sellers compete. No third party makes decisions for them.

There should be some regulation of the market as a whole, but no mandates as to what specific consumers and sellers can do or cannot do. A free market does not have some who are required to follow the rules while others are exempt.

There are no free market forces when buyers are required by law to buy a specific, government-approved product and only that; where sellers are told what to sell and at what price; and where a third party pays the bill.

The people at Think New Mexico no doubt mean well. Nonetheless, the group is paving the road to hell.

They say they want to “free” the market, yet propose to do so by increasing the number of rules, regulations and restrictions!

You cannot reduce regulatory constraints on a market by adding more regulations. You cannot cure cancer using cancer.

Getting useful comparative shopping information into the hands of consumers would be necessary in a truly free market. But first, consumers need control of and responsibility for their own money. They need to be making the spend/not spend decision rather than the government.

It gets worse. “Price” in health care is a meaningless term.

Everywhere else, price is what the consumer pays to the seller. In health care, the consumer doesn’t pay, and no one pays what the price tag reads. Payment is decided by the federal government, rather than through the balancing mechanism of negotiation between buyer and seller.

So the consumer gets useless information and cannot economize because the spend/not spend decision is made by someone else. That is not a free market.

On the supply side of a free market, various sellers compete for consumers’ dollars based on the true price (cost to customer), features, and quality. Not so in health care, where the market is tightly controlled.

The government, not the seller, sets prices and quality standards. There is no competition between the various sellers of goods and services.

There is competition in one place in health care: between insurance carriers. They compete strictly on price and then make their profit by delaying, deferring and denying the care we need.

Health care is the antithesis of a free market. Think New Mexico’s plan will not make it one. Though the group’s ostensible intentions are laudable, their implementation plan is deeply flawed. It will only smooth our descent to an overly warm clime.

Dr. Deane Waldman, author of “The Cancer In Healthcare,” is an adjunct scholar for the Rio Grande Foundation.

Rio Grande Foundation Asks EPA to Withdraw its “Waters of the U.S.” Proposal

(Albuquerque, NM) —The Rio Grande Foundation today joined with 375 trade associations and chambers from 50 states representing a wide range of industries to voice strong concerns with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ flawed proposed rule to dramatically expand the scope of federal authority over water and land uses across the U.S. and called for the proposal to be withdrawn. The effort was led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The comments are available here.

The rule is simply an attempt by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats to take over the economies and the livelihoods of everyone in the western U.S. It has little to do with environmental protection, and everything to do with a political takeover of our most precious resource – making everyone in the west dependent and beholden to Washington bureaucrats.

As the groups’ comments state, “The proposed rule is really about the Agencies’ overreaching attempt to replace longstanding state and local control of land uses near water with centralized federal control. In light of the overwhelming evidence that the proposed rule would have a devastating impact on businesses, states, and local governments without any real benefit to water quality, the Agencies should immediately withdraw the waters of the U.S. proposal and begin again. The current proposed rule is simply too procedurally and legally flawed to repair.”

The comments detail several examples of the impacts of the proposed rule, including:

  • Maps prepared by EPA show the rule could expand federal jurisdiction over waters from 5 million river and stream miles to well over 8 million river and stream miles;
  • The rule would make most ditches into “tributaries.”  Routine maintenance activities in ditches and on-site ponds and impoundments could trigger permits that can cost $100,000 or more;
  • These permitting requirements would likely trigger additional environmental reviews that would add years to the completion time for ordinary projects;
  • Even if a project can get a permit, firms will often have to agree to mitigate environmental “damage” with costly restoration/mitigation projects;
  • The proposal would likely also result in more stringent storm water management requirements, which would affect retailers, companies with large parking lots, “big box” stores, etc.

 

Gessing and Webber pre-debate interview w/ Fred Martino on KRWG TV

Before our debate in Las Cruces (and thus before the election or the Virgin Galactic crash), I sat down to discuss the issues of the day with former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber for a discussion with Fred Martino on KRWG's Newsmakers.

Gessing and Webber pre-debate interview w/ Fred Martino on KRWG TV

Before our debate in Las Cruces (and thus before the election or the Virgin Galactic crash), I sat down to discuss the issues of the day with former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber for a discussion with Fred Martino on KRWG's Newsmakers.

Paul Gessing's KRQE interview on the Toby Martinez municipal courthouse restitution/pension situation

I was asked by KRQE Channel 13 to discuss efforts by the federal government to take funds from Toby Martinez' (who stole from taxpayers in the Municipal Courthouse scandal alongside Manny Aragon) pension in order to fulfill Martinez' restitution requirements. Unfortunately, according to my reading of New Mexico law, the Feds can't tap Martinez' pension under New Mexico law despite his criminal conviction. Astonishingly, according to the report, Martinez' pension is worth upwards of $473,000 which is illustrative of the incredible generosity of New Mexico's underfunded pension systems.

Watch the full interview below:

Right to Work: on the agenda for 2015 session?

In the wake of the Republican takeover of the New Mexico House, the talk has begun over whether or not the Legislature will seriously consider adopting a Right to Work law.

Our friends at the Heartland Institute have some excellent research and information on right to work and its potential impact on New Mexico (including research from RGF).

Lastly, I had a letter to the editor in the Albuquerque Journal's Business section on Monday which may have been missed amid all the election activity:


Letters to the Editor
Albuquerque Business Journal

In his column on right to work laws, Marshall Martin concludes that “there is little question having right to work may signify that a state is business friendly, one cannot be certain that having right to work is the deciding factor…”

That is a true enough statement. In the real world, “scientific” studies of economic systems don’t work. “Proof” that right to work is indeed good for the economy is as elusive as is “proof” that any law or system works.

What we do know is that eight out of 10 of the fastest growing states in 2013 were right to work. We also know that between 1977 and 2008, right to work states produced 44.5% more jobs and saw per-capita personal incomes grow 10% faster than states that do not have such laws in place.

Of course, right to work is not only an economic issue. It is a freedom issue. Workers shouldn’t have to join unions or pay union dues if they don’t want to.

It is true that no single economic policy change made by New Mexico’s Legislature is our ticket to prosperity, but a right to work law – which unlike most other “economic development” schemes won’t cost taxpayers a dime – is a good place to start.

So, the Legislature, whatever its partisan makeup, must embrace a variety of pro-market reforms if New Mexico’s economy is to be turned around, but right to work, a policy which according to Gallup is supported by 65% of Democrats nationally, is a great starting point.

Who's grabbing New Mexico lands?

Recently, New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich sounded off in the East Coast liberal establishment's favorite news outlet, The New York Times, about efforts by the Rio Grande Foundation and others who wish to devolve certain lands currently managed by Washington bureaucracies (specifically the National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) to state control. Needless to say, he's not a fan.

I responded with an article that ran nationally (shockingly, not in the Times) and generated an interesting column on the situation from the Albuquerque Journal's Washington correspondent Michael Coleman.

I noted in my column that Heinrich (and Udall) enthusiastically supported federal monument designations in both Northern and Southern New Mexico. I was remiss in not pointing out that Heinrich and Udall have introduced legislation to designate an additional 45,000 New Mexico lands as "Wilderness." This bill is unlikely to pass Congress, but it is very possible that Heinrich and Udall will convince a lame-duck President Obama to "use his pen" to designate the land by himself in yet another federal "land grab."

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