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Some quick facts before the 2021 legislative session kicks off

As the first-ever “virtual” New Mexico legislative session kicks off we believe it is important for New Mexico policymakers to have some basic information about New Mexico’s economy.

  1. New Mexico tax burdens are not low relative to neighboring states. The chart below is from the Federation of Tax Administrators. With far heavier tax burdens than its neighbors, New Mexico’s tax burden ranks 7th-heaviest among states.
  1. According to the website US Government Spending state and local spending in New Mexico is far higher than in neighboring states as a percentage of the state economy (GDP). The data are constantly being updated, but New Mexico consistently has the biggest-spending state and local governments in the US.
  1. When it comes to raising the minimum wage, mandatory paid sick leave, or a variety of other economic policies, New Mexico lags dramatically. The data in the Fraser Institute analysis below is from 2018 which is the final year of Susana Martinez’ time in office. New Mexico desperately needs MORE economic freedom, not less.

4.. We already know New Mexico is among the poorest states in the US. If the Legislature is serious about reducing poverty and improving outcomes for children and the rest of the population (regardless of race or gender) it needs to have a serious conversation about economic freedom issues. like taxes and regulations.

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ABQ Journal op-ed: Politicians are creating hole in center of ABQ

Anyone who has lived in or even visited Albuquerque as a young person has visited Cliff’s Amusement Park. Once upon a time it was “Uncle Cliff’s.” The place has been a local fixture for more than six decades.

It is also in danger thanks to the mismanagement of our state, most notably by our governor during the COVID 19 situation, but Cliff’s also faces longer-term problems thanks to the anti-business attitudes of increasing numbers of state and local politicians.

Policymakers seem bound and determined to force Cliff’s Amusement Park out of business, thus destroying a place that holds cherished memories for generations of New Mexicans.

Most pressing is the dire need for the park to simply reopen. Thanks to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders, 2020 was the first time the park did not open for an entire season. Forty-six of the 50 states have allowed amusement parks to open. Not New Mexico.

Yet for locked down businesses like Cliff’s, costs continue to mount. Cliff’s sits on prime Albuquerque real estate between San Mateo and I-25. Property taxes and maintenance bills continue to mount even if revenues dry up.

Despite a national plan presented to the governor under which the park could open safely, they were prohibited from doing so. Disney World and all of Disney’s properties in Orlando have been safely operating for months, as have various Universal Studios properties. Ohio’s Kings Island and Cedar Point parks both opened this past summer as did parks in numerous states throughout the nation.

A few months ago, my family visited the Great Wolf Lodge in Scottsdale. The park has a near-exact replica of the water area found at Cliff’s, but bigger and indoors. Again, as with the amusement parks that have opened, there have been no reports of COVID-19 outbreaks at these facilities. My family included.

There is no use worrying about 2020, but Cliff’s typically opens in April and that is not far off for a park that hires hundreds of local teenagers on a seasonal basis every year and had to lay off 20 full-time employees last year.

In October, Gary Hays, the head of Cliff’s, told KOAT, “I honestly don’t know if we can survive without opening up (next year).” And, unless something changes – and soon – it would seem that Cliff’s and numerous other entertainment venues, including the Albuquerque Isotopes, will remain closed for the foreseeable future, possibly permanently.

Under the governor’s red, yellow, green rubric, Cliff’s and other entertainment venues won’t be able to open even when their respective county gets into the green zone. Currently, every county in the state but sparsely-populated Catron is in the red.

And that’s not all, even if the governor were to come to her senses and allow Cliff’s and other recreational facilities to open tomorrow, the policies being imposed in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are causing businesses like Cliff’s to suffer “death by a thousand cuts.”

Mandatory paid sick leave, which has been repeatedly rejected at the city level, will now be considered in the Legislature. The state’s minimum wage just rose from $9.00 to $10.50 an hour and is on its way to $12.00 an hour in a few years. There is serious talk of further increasing the minimum wage again this session.

Cliffs’ workforce consists of 98% teenagers. They are the state’s largest employer of young people and – not surprisingly – have been hit especially hard by the pandemic and economic shutdowns. Even if the park opens on time and as usual this spring, the hostile policy climate is making business for Cliff’s and other small businesses more difficult each year.

Do we really want a Cliff’s-sized hole in the middle of Albuquerque? If the park closes, the prime real estate will be filled by warehouses or fast food joints, but an unfillable hole will remain for this and future generations of New Mexico youth.

The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility. 

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United Van Lines 2020 mobility report: What does it mean for New Mexico?

United Van Lines has released its report on where people are moved to and from in 2020. You can check out the map below.

Given the uniqueness of 2020 it is VERY interesting to see where people are moving to and from. But, while 2020 was a very unique year, 2020 mostly saw the continuation of a trend that saw high tax “blue” states like New Jersey, New York, California, and Illinois continue to lose people while more economically-free (both long-term and in terms of the Virus), lower-cost states like Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Arizona were among the biggest gainers in terms of population.

Fast-growing “blue” Oregon is an enigma but we suspect Californians may be moving in numbers due to its relatively lower costs.

The following data for New Mexico from the report show that New Mexico tends to attract older retirees and those moving for “lifestyle” reasons. Younger people and those moving for jobs or family are less likely to choose New Mexico.

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Netflix Fueled by Oil and Gas in New Mexico

The following appeared at National Review’s website on December 25, 2020

We have known for decades the extent to which progressives dominate Hollywood. In the age of social media, Hollywood celebrities waste no opportunity to show that they stand with the poor, the downtrodden, and the righteous. But they have a way of showing themselves up as the hypocrites we already know that they are.

Let’s start with “fracking.” Fact: a few years ago, more than 100 Hollywood A-listers signed on to an effort under the banner of Artists Against Fracking to ban hydraulic fracturing. Yet it’s no secret that many of Hollywood’s numerous well-heeled opponents of “fracking” have something of a weakness for private planes and, even in their humbler moments, for large SUVs. It’s not much of an exaggeration to think that some of them probably gobble up more energy in a day than average Americans do in weeks.

But without hydraulic-fracturing technology, oil and gas production in my home state of New Mexico would almost completely dry up. This industry has made New Mexico a major energy producer, a crucial source of revenue and jobs for a state widely recognized as one of the poorest in the country. Fracking has safely opened massive new energy deposits with production concentrated in the Permian Basin, located in southeast New Mexico and shared with Texas. In fact, New Mexico is the third-largest oil-producing state, with over 1 million barrels per day at the end of 2019One-third of the state’s entire budget is generated by the industry.

Too bad. If the nation follows the advice of Hollywood’s anti-fracking activists, a poor state and its poor residents will be denied the benefits of an important natural resource and simply go without. While fracking remains legal (for now) in New Mexico, Hollywood’s hypocrisy goes far beyond merely advocating against this technology: some of its leading companies have found a way to suck up tax revenues right here in New Mexico that would otherwise be spent on public schools, health care, and other government services.

In an effort to attain the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, New Mexico’s liberal politicians are handing out some of the most generous subsidies available anywhere to Hollywood film companies. That those companies tend to lean liberal is, of course, only a coincidence.

Netflix is the latest production company to bring significant operations to the Land of Enchantment. The streaming company recently announced that it would expand its operations in the state, spending an additional $1 billion in New Mexico over the next 10 years.

That sounds good, but however liberal it may be, the entertainment industry is still the entertainment industry, and the deal comes with a catch. Netflix may be spending in the state, but it will also be receiving a very generous incentive from the New Mexico taxpayer, something of an irony when one-third of the state’s taxes are paid by “wicked” oil and gas.

Netflix (like any film company that operates in New Mexico) is eligible to have 25 percent of its expenses reimbursed by the State. Better yet, the length of the company’s ten-year lease means it “qualifies” under state law to receive an increased reimbursement of 30 percent.

Just to be clear, if Netflix does indeed spend $1 billion over the next decade as it asserts, it could be entitled to checks from the New Mexico Treasury totaling $300 million. If 33.5 percent of New Mexico’s budget comes from oil and gas over that time period, Netflix alone will effectively be receiving $100 million directly from the oil and gas industry.

Of course, if the “keep-it-in-the-ground” wing of the Democratic Party prevails and bans fracking on New Mexico’s federal lands, the state’s oil and gas revenues could plummet, forcing the State’s other taxpayers to pick up more of the bill for Netflix or triggering some sort of crisis in its relationship with the company

Unfortunately, when it comes to subsidies for Netflix, $300 million is just the down payment. The state is also fronting another $17 million in direct incentives to Netflix while the City of Albuquerque is coughing up another $7 million. These funds come from something called the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA), commonly referred to as a “closing fund.” These are payments made by state or local governments to preferred industries. One might believe that in a state as poor as New Mexico (consistently among the nation’s poorest) that taxpayers picking up the bill for 30 percent of a profitable corporation’s business expenses would be enough.

As things seem at the moment, Netflix is going to continue to grow and over time it should create more jobs in New Mexico. That will generate all the usual headlines about how great the company is for the state and its economy, but it will come at a tremendous cost. That cost is not just in lost revenue, but in tax rebates borne primarily by state taxpayers. This subsidy is both unfair and unsustainable.

As one of Hollywood’s biggest businesses, Netflix is a member of that elite group of publicly traded stocks known as the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google). Netflix flaunts its rapidly growing profitability, but it is still prepared to consume massive taxpayer subsidies not only from one of the poorest states in the country, but from a state that can only afford to pay out those generous subsidies thanks to the revenues it receives from the oil and gas industry that so much of Hollywood condemns.

Senator Bernie Sanders is still a hero to many in the entertainment industry and, to be fair, he at least takes a principled approach to such corporate welfare. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many in Hollywood and Democratic politicians like New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. She has locked our state in to paying Netflix outrageous sums of money over the next decade at a time of great uncertainty for New Mexico and its economic outlook and thrown away the key. That much of that uncertainty comes from her own party only piles irony upon irony.

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

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RGF’s Paul Gessing talks New Mexico politics and policy w/ Mick Rich

The following conversation between RGF president Paul Gessing and Mick Rich (former US Senate candidate and owner of a construction business) aired on local television in Albuquerque, NM recently. It is split into four segments of about 10 minutes apiece.

In the first segment Mick and Paul discuss health care reforms made under ObamaCare, why it has failed, and how Biden plans to move forward with the same government-driven philosophy.

In segment two we discuss the evolution and economics of New Mexico’s film industry and its oil and gas industry.

In the third segment we discuss some of the crime issues at play in the City of Albuquerque.

In this segment we discuss the upcoming 2021 legislative session, the Rail Runner, Spaceport, and five things the Legislature SHOULD do to bring prosperity to our state.

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A brief Rio Grande Foundation Analysis of PFM report on New Mexico’s tax structure (Part 2)

Yesterday we said we’d get an analysis of the PFM report on New Mexico’s tax code. As indicated in that post, there is some good information in the report even though we disagree with many of its findings. One of the best points made is the following which is taken directly from the report:Too often the only “equity” discussion that takes place is over “progressive” or “regressive” taxation. The PFM report acknowledges that New Mexico’s gross receipts tax is unfair to competing businesses within the same industries. As the text above points out this bias assists bigger firms and penalizes smaller ones.

Overall, the analysts seemed concern about the gross receipts and specifically argued for NOT raising rates on that tax. Unfortunately, that’s where the restraint went out the window. The report FAILED to mention New Mexico’s heavy (existing) tax burden (7th-highest as a percent of income) and bloated and inefficient government, yet it included numerous MAJOR tax hikes and NO tax cuts. The tax hikes mentioned included:

  • Higher marginal rates at higher income levels.
  • Eliminating the capital gains personal income tax exemption.
  • Re-institute an estate tax.
  • Increase the gas tax rate.
  • Establish a structure for taxing recreational marijuana (we support the policy, but of course this is still more government revenue).
  • Broaden the gross receipts tax base to include food and, for lower income taxpayers while enacting a revenue neutral refundable personal income tax credit.
  • Continue to expand excise taxes to align with new forms of goods or services, such as vapor products.
  • Consider a carbon tax or so-called “market-based approaches.”

While there are elements of some of these ideas that could be part of a broad-based, revenue-neutral tax reform plan, including “shifting greater local funding responsibility to property taxes and away from gross receipts taxes” the report is WAY too focused on generating more money for the State and focuses far too little on spurring economic growth and job creation.

Finally, although the overall report is lacking, one additional bit of good news is that PFM specifically calls out film subsidies. Again, the full text is below directly from the report:

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Haaland would be far to the left of Lujan Grisham on energy

UPDATE: Per several news reports, Haaland HAS indeed been chosen to head the US Department of the Interior.

New Mexico women appear to have the inside track in the Biden Administration for Interior Secretary. The post was apparently offered to Gov. Lujan Grisham who turned it down. Now, Albuquerque-area Congresswoman Deb Haaland is being promoted for the job by none other than Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

We at the Rio Grande Foundation have been critics of Lujan Grisham’s economic and COVID policies, but on energy issues, Lujan Grisham is actually a moderate while Haaland is on the far-left wing when it comes to energy issues. If implemented, her stated policies would be a disaster for New Mexico and other energy producing states.

Haaland told The Guardian, “I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands,” she said. She is also a staunch supporter of the Green New Deal.” According to a recent study of the issue, “New Mexico would see even steeper revenue losses under the study’s forecasts. The state would lose on average $946 million per year in oil and gas tax revenue in the first five years under a lease moratorium, and on average $1.2 billion per year in tax revenue in the first five years under a drilling ban.”

Lujan Grisham, on the other hand, voted FOR crude oil exports when she was in Congress. She also has said that she’ll ask for an exemption from any future drilling ban (on federal lands). While Lujan Grisham has said that New Mexico would “transition away from fossil fuels” and she even signed New Mexico’s own version of a “Green New Deal,” she is nowhere near as radical as Deb Haaland when it comes to energy.

If Haaland becomes Secretary of the Interior, energy-producing Western states better watch out!

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A brief Rio Grande Foundation Analysis of PFM report on New Mexico’s tax structure (Part 1)

Yesterday, a report called “State of New Mexico Tax Structure: Issues and Alternatives”was released by a firm called PFM Consulting. The report is worthy of a detailed analysis and it has generated several stories in the media.  

A few initial thoughts: 1) I’m glad they posted the report at a link that can be easily-accessed by the public and policymakers. 2) As these documents go it is relatively accessible in terms of its language. 3) Taxes are a very important component of public policy, BUT they are one of several policy areas that must be addressed to make New Mexico economically competitive. 4) Analysts and legislators of differing backgrounds can view the same data and have completely different conclusions. While the media have covered some reactions from policymakers, we will offer our insights in a 2nd post to be published tomorrow (December 17).

Here are a few charts taken directly from the report which illustrate New Mexico’s serious economic challenges:

  1. Over the last decade New Mexico’s neighbors saw much faster employment growth although we did outperform Alaska and Wyoming which the report includes by way of further comparison.

2. New Mexico faces deeper poverty challenges than any of its neighbors or Wyoming/Alaska.

3. Related to poverty, New Mexico’s median incomes lag.

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New Mexico’s Netflix ‘Deal’ A Blow To State’s Finances

This article appeared in the Roswell Daily-Record on December 15, 2020 and in several other New Mexico newspapers.

New Mexico remains among the most locked down states in the nation when it comes to the CoronaVirus. In October the State’s unemployment rate was among the highest in the nation at 8.1%. This difficult economic news combined with the election of a more “progressive” Legislature in November mean that tax increases (and even spending cuts) are likely in store for the upcoming 2021 legislative session. With New Mexico relying heavily on oil and gas revenues, the State’s economic pain will last beyond the coming year.

A new deal announced by Gov. Lujan Grisham with the well-known streaming service Netflix is being touted as good news for New Mexico’s economy. In announcing the deal the Gov. claimed, “My administration has expanded our state’s competitive film incentives, facilitating higher-wage employment for New Mexicans all across the state.” Under the terms of the deal, Netflix will dramatically-expand their footprint in the State spending $1 billion over the next decade.

Unfortunately, despite all the hype and big-sounding numbers, the Netflix deal is just another example of New Mexico’s economically-ignorant political leadership “buying” jobs and economic activity with taxpayer money. The reality is that New Mexico’s already strapped budgets will be drained even more in the years ahead by this new plan to subsidize Hollywood.

Something that too few in the media do is look closely at the particulars of the deal itself. For example: the State offers a 25% film “tax credit” which is really a rebate of 25% of the costs of production. Netflix is able to boost that rebate by another 5% since they are considered a “qualified” production facility. That means taxpayers will reimburse Netflix for 30% of their spending in NM. According to a new report from the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) states that film subsidy payouts could increase annual tax credit payouts by $25 million beginning next fiscal year.

Lest there be any doubt that film subsidies actually cost the State and its taxpayers money, a separate 2019 LFC report noted, “Because film tax credit payouts are booked to Corporate Income Tax (CIT), actual CIT receipts are higher than the final amounts distributed to the general fund.” These subsidies take corporate tax dollars right out of the State Treasury and hand them to film companies.

“Tax credits” are just the starting point. Additionally, the State is providing $17 million in LEDA incentives; the City of Albuquerque is providing another $7 million in LEDA, and they will also provide an industrial revenue bond to abate some or all property taxes over a 20-year term for the first $500 million investment to build out the facility.

In total Netflix will receive $300 million + $17 million + $7 million + the IRB tax abatement to eliminate their property taxes.

Finally, even though NM has an annual cap on film tax rebate expenditures, the legislation exempted companies that purchase or sign a 10-year lease for a qualified production facility: this means the cap does not apply to Netflix.

In other words, Netflix is definitely going to grow and appear to create more jobs in New Mexico (which will make a lot of headlines), but it will do so at taxpayer expense. That cost is not just in lost revenue, but in actual spending. Those costs, generated through the tax credit, really a rebate, are borne primarily by State taxpayers. This subsidy is both unfair AND unsustainable.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has now locked us in to paying Netflix outrageous sums of money over the next decade at a time of great uncertainty for New Mexico families and the state’s economic outlook.

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

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Rio Grande Foundation in the news on paid sick leave AND public health order enforcement

In case you missed it, Albuquerque’s City Council recently punted on TWO big issues. RGF discussed both issues with KOB TV channel 4. You can watch the discussion relating to fines and even jail time for disobeying the public health order below.

And, RGF and the local business community has engaged in a the issue of mandatory paid sick leave. The Council (again) pushed the final vote to at least February 1, 2021.