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Economy Energy and Environment Notable News Oil & Gas Top Issues

Heinrich coming for your gas heater, stove

The following appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on July 21, 2021. While the newspaper cannot include hyperlinks to the data used in the piece we have added those links here:

Natural gas is a clean and affordable fuel they use to cook, heat their water, and provide warmth in the winter. Millions of Americans appreciate its benefits, even if they don’t think about them.

Just because you don’t think about natural gas doesn’t mean radical environmentalists (including New Mexico’s senior US Senator Martin Heinrich) aren’t. Heinrich recently wrote in the New York Times that “working to electrify our vehicles, homes and businesses is a critical part of achieving economywide net-zero emissions.”

He’s pushing legislation in Congress and for funding in the “infrastructure” bill for “electrification” – which is really another way of saying phasing out or banning your natural gas stove, oven, and furnace and requiring you to use electric heat and stoves.

Sacramento recently became the 46th US city to begin “phasing out natural gas in new buildings.” It’s not just happening in California. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Seattle, Denver and New York have all either enacted or proposed measures to ban or discourage the use of the fossil fuel in new homes and buildings.”

Just a decade or so ago the Sierra Club and other environmental groups supported natural gas as a cleaner-burning alternative to coal. Now, Senator Heinrich – counter to the economic interests of the state he represents (New Mexico is a major natural gas producer) and against the expressed preferences of consumers who use such appliances – is pushing to eliminate natural gas.

The push for a natural gas ban is premised on the idea that we should replace fossil fuels with wind and solar technologies that put us on a path to “net-zero emissions.” Of course, we’re not just talking about replacing all existing electricity generation; just 10% of current electricity production comes from wind, solar, and geothermal combined. Experts say “electrification” would increase US electricity consumption by 40 percent.

To say the least, Sen. Heinrich’s “electrification” scheme will require astonishing amounts of new electricity generation (at great economic cost) not to mention batteries to ensure reliability and new transmission lines to distribute it. We’ll be the ones paying for all that new redundant generation.

It’s an even bigger problem considering the reliability and demand issues already facing the Western United States this summer and utilities’ (including PNM’s) difficulty bringing new “renewables” online.  

And then there are consumer preferences for natural gas, which for some reason get casually ignored. You will have to search far and wide to find an electric stove in your favorite restaurant. That’s because natural gas is superior to electricity for cooking on both food quality and price.  Banning natural gas in restaurants means you would be waiting longer for your favorite meal while also paying more.

Any serious push for “electrification” of our economy will require massive government subsidies (thus Heinrich’s push in the current “infrastructure” bill), with electricity reliability already an issue the reliability of natural gas can be a literal lifesaver.

We all want clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Natural gas provides all three. And while the US has been steadily-reducing CO2 emissions for over a decade, China now emits more CO2 than the rest of the developed world combined(that includes the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia). Sen. Heinrich’s forced-shift to all-electric in the US will be costly and won’t achieve the environmental gains he seeks.

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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Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Rio Grande Foundation Settles Public Records Lawsuit Against City of Albuquerque

For Immediate Release: July 19, 2021

For further information, contact: Patrick Brenner (505) 377-6273

After eighteen months of litigation and negotiation, the Rio Grande Foundation is pleased to announce the settlement of the lawsuit related to the City of Albuquerque’s lack of transparency and openness. The actions of Mayor Tim Keller’s administration and City Clerk Ethan Watson have proven to be antithetical to the principles of open government.

The voters of Albuquerque defeated Democracy Dollars in November of 2019, and the Rio Grande Foundation’s exposure of numerous flaws in the proposal played a pivotal role in the downfall of the ballot measure. Furthermore, the Foundation filed an ethics complaint against Mayor Tim Keller for his use of the City’s website (CABQ.gov) in which he specifically called for voters to approve Democracy Dollars. Mayor Keller’s actions were found to be in violation of city ordinance by the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices.

Following the ethics complaint, the Rio Grande Foundation requested a reasonable collection of text messages and emails sent to and from specific city employees leading up to the posting of Mayor Keller’s pleas on the city’s website to vote “YES”.

The public records request was filed under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act and was accepted by the City in December of 2019. After dutifully paying the invoice to receive these records, the City of Albuquerque failed to provide all responsive records for over ten months. Patrick Brenner, the Foundation’s policy analyst, filed the original request.

On May 12, 2020, after exhausting all other avenues to obtain these public records, which included assistance from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government when Director Melanie Majors sent a letter of complaint to no avail, the Rio Grande Foundation filed a legal complaint in District Court against the city.

Repeated requests from the Foundation to confirm that these records were not being deleted had been continually ignored by Ethan Watson, City Clerk, and the Custodian of Records, Yvette Gurule.

During mediation, the Foundation also tried to address the city’s responsiveness to open government requests. After being presented with specific policy recommendations, the city refused to improve the process, leaving in place the glaring problems that resulted in the months-long delays. Rather, the city offered a sizable settlement that the Rio Grande Foundation will use to further its open government advocacy and transparency efforts.

In the interest of transparency, the Rio Grande Foundation is making the settlement agreement available here.

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Energy and Environment Notable News Oil & Gas Top Issues

Biden Energy Policy: How Red States Saved New Mexico

The following appeared on July 9, 2021 at National Review’s Capital Matters:

National Review's Capital Matters Launch

On June 15, 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction halting the Biden administration’s moratorium on new oil and gas permits on federal lands and in federally controlled offshore areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The lawsuit was filed by 14 states that were set to lose out on significant oil and gas development if the moratorium remained in place indefinitely.

Ironically, of all the states impacted by Biden’s moratorium, increasingly deep blue New Mexico had the most to lose. According to an analysis from the American Petroleum Institute, New Mexico would be expected to lose over 62,000 jobs and $1.1 billion in revenue from the moratorium. Ranking third among all states in oil production and a leader in natural-gas production as well, New Mexico would have lost nearly half of total production in both had the moratorium stuck.

Wyoming, the next-most-affected  state would have lost just a bit over half as much revenue ($641 million) as New Mexico. And, with an annual General Fund budget of $7.4 billion, that is a lot of revenue to make up. Unfortunately, in this world of “red” and “blue” states, self-interest was not enough to get New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to join the lawsuit.

So, no thanks to any of our own elected officials (or former New Mexico Congresswoman, now Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland), New Mexico likely just dodged a dagger aimed straight at the heart of the state’s economy. Better still, a combination of market forces and geological discoveries means that New Mexico’s oil and gas industries (like America’s) could be heading into an era of unprecedented prosperity, if  the political forces arrayed against them can be held at bay.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, oil production in New Mexico’s Permian Basin (which it shares with Texas) had been growing rapidly. As recently as 2010 New Mexico was the 7th-leading oil-producing state in the nation with 65 million barrels a year. By 2020 (despite the pandemic), annual production had risen to 379 million barrels.  

Now, it appears that New Mexico is on the verge of surpassing North Dakota to become the nation’s 2nd-largest crude-oil producer. March 2021 data (the most recently available) from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show New Mexico producing 1.16 million barrels of oil per day compared to 1.11 million in North Dakota.

Like most of New Mexico’s post-2010 surge, the state’s continued growth is being driven by new discoveries that are accessible through new technologies; notably, “fracking.” Furthermore, as the Permian Basin  has already been producing large quantities of oil and natural gas for decades, the infrastructure to access and move the product is already in place.

As if all of these convergent factors acting in support of New Mexico’s oil and gas industry weren’t enough, while motorists may not be thrilled, prices at the pump clearly show that the industry is doing quite well in the wake of COVID-19. If analysts from Bank of America are right, the boom is just getting started. They predict that by 2022 crude-oil prices could hit $100 per barrel. This means even more jobs and tax revenues flowing into New Mexico and it means reliable (if not necessarily cheap) energy for Americans.

Ironically, despite all of this good economic news for the state, New Mexico’s history of rule by left-wing Democrats has left it in pretty bad shape, thanks in no small part to the intense lockdowns during the pandemic. Oil and gas and the money it brings may help, but if the state’s political leadership doesn’t do a better job managing the boom, the next bust could be harder to manage.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for May, New Mexico’s unemployment rate is 2nd-highest in the nation at 8 percent. Worse, due to the state’s poor performance on a variety of education, economic, and crime rankings, New Mexico was recently ranked as the worst state in the U.S. in which to live. Agree with the data or not, the Land of Enchantment has some deep-seated and serious issues to deal with.

And, while most problems are made easier with money as opposed to without it, a system where politicians have plenty of resources to spend regardless of the success or failure of their economic policies is not a great system. In fact, it is a system that has fueled awful government in places like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (to name just two poorly governed petro-states).

Will things be different this time for poor New Mexico? The political and economic situation are extremely volatile and it is hard to tell. With energy largesse flowing in, the Land of Enchantment  could finally add a strong economy  to its name. Political will has always been the missing ingredient.

PAUL GESSING is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation.

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RGF (and freedom) win on donor privacy at SCOTUS

The Rio Grande Foundation takes donor privacy VERY seriously. We fought tooth and nail against Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s push to publicize donations to 501c3 organizations like RGF open to the public. We also litigated against the City of Santa Fe over donor privacy issues regarding work we did to defeat the soda tax a few years ago.

And, we filed an ‘amicus’ or friend of the court brief in support of donor privacy(read it here) in the Americans for Prosperity v. California case just decided by the Supreme Court. The 6-3 decision strikes a blow for privacy and free speech for the Rio Grande Foundation, our supporters, and millions of Americans.

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Las Cruces Sun-News column: New Mexico’s COVID-19 response failed on important metrics

This article appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on June 27, 2021. With COVID and the Gov.’s COVID policies at last receding, the race is on to determine how effective or ineffective our Gov.’s lockdown policies really were. Our analysis is below:

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Economy Notable News Research Top Issues

Santa Fe’s fake “Guaranteed Minimum Income” experiment

According to the Albuquerque Journal, The City of Santa Fe is among about 25 U.S. cities that will be experimenting with universal basic income as part of a pilot program funded through the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income project.

The concept of a “Universal Basic Income” (UBI) that replaces traditional, top-down welfare programs with a government-provided “basic income” has been around for decades and even received support from free market adherents like Milton Friedman and Charles Murray.

Of course, while there are “UBI” supporters on the political right, the idea is to REPLACE other government welfare programs with a “basic” income. Santa Fe’s plan fails right away on that point. In fact, the COVID pandemic has been a bit of an experiment with “real world” UBI. As millions of Americans lost work, government stepped in with “stimuli” and supplemental unemployment payments that have gotten many people used to the idea of government cutting you a check regardless of whether you work or not.

A second big flaw in this “experiment” is that the money will come from voluntary sources, not taxpayers. Funding will come from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, a group called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income project, and the Santa Fe Community Foundation. Having “free” money pay for a new welfare program may SEEM like what the government is doing now, but we are seeing the cost via inflation. Donor-driven UBI as in Santa Fe is just a nice gesture by donors.

Finally, the third major inherent issue is that the money is being targeted to help 100 people under age 30 who have children and are attending Santa Fe Community College.

Targeting certain groups to receive $400-$500 a month is a nice idea, but it’s obviously NOT “universal.”

The problem with UBI is that when it gets through the political process, it will not resemble the theory supported by Friedman and Murray. Among other problems will wind up supplementing, not a replacing other welfare programs.

 

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RGF discusses hotel tax lien/lodgers tax w/ KOAT 7

Recently, RGF’s president was walking downtown and noticed the Hyatt Hotel downtown was completely closed to the public. Physical entry to the property was impossible and his phone calls were not returned.

Ultimately, it came to light thanks to an Albuquerque Journal article that the hotel was closed due to a lack of convention business AND that the City of Albuquerque had filed tax liens against several properties for lack of payment of lodgers taxes. The Rio Grande Foundation has expressed concerns in the recent past about lodgers taxesand agrees that reform is needed, BUT if the business is collecting the tax from its customers, they should be remitted.

Check out the story here and by clicking the image below:

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Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Thankfully, Anthony Fauci didn’t delete his emails like Gov. Lujan Grisham

This article first appeared in The Center Square on June 4th, 2021.

Anthony Fauci’s emails have been released, and they tell an interesting tale about the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. One particular email stood out to me from Fauci to Sylvia Burwell discussing masks.

Within the body of the email, Fauci asserts that the use of masks in a public setting is generally to prevent infected individuals from spreading a virus. More specifically, he writes that the “typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material.” This email was sent on February 5, 2020.

If the drug-store masks are ineffective, why were they forced on the general population for over a year? Did masks help contain the spread of COVID-19 at all? What else do we not know?

But I’m not here to argue about the efficacy of masks and Fauci’s handling of the pandemic. I’m here to emphasize the importance of why we are able to have this discussion today: open government and transparency.

Without access to these documents, the country might not have ever known to ask these questions. This is significant as we can analyze the events in early 2020 in a new light. Most importantly, we can hold individuals accountable if they recommended policies that were known not to be effective.

Here in New Mexico, we have a different ongoing dilemma, one that is also rooted in transparency. Thanks to the initial efforts of Searchlight New Mexico, the additional whistleblowers that have come forward since the initial Searchlight report, and some well-timed public records requests submitted by yours truly, we know that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her administration are still actively depriving the people of New Mexico access to public documents through permanent and automatic deletion.

In January of this year, a directive from the governor’s office was implemented by the New Mexico Department of Information Technology: delete all messages after 24 hours. This directive came before the governor’s press secretary acknowledged the use of a creative new term: “transitory.”

The deleted messages were broadly considered “transitory” in nature, a definition that has already been debunked in the context of transparency and is not a qualified exception under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), New Mexico’s government transparency law.

“Transitory” messages have been unofficially described as “employee banter, routine check-ins between workers and other insignificant exchanges.” The rub is that they’re all public documents and subject to inspection requests, regardless of whatever “transitory” qualification they try to apply.

Fauci could have used the same term to describe his seemingly innocuous email to Burwell about masks. What if Fauci had deleted that email because it was “just transitory”?

All this and the responses from Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office that there are “no records responsive to your request” underlines a seriously dangerous trend and contemptuous attitude within the Governor’s administration. The widespread and systematic “paper shredder” policy is nothing short of criminal.

New Mexico’s Attorney General agrees: “public bodies acquiring information should keep in mind that the records they keep generally are subject to public inspection.”

The governor’s press secretary Nora Sackett said that the governor takes transparency and open government “very seriously.” If that’s true, then Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration and all New Mexico state agencies should shed their cloaks of secrecy and immediately stop the destruction of public documents.

This is a clear assault on the people’s ability to keep a watchful eye on their elected government and should be alarming to everyone, especially those who care for our democracy.

And remember, democracy dies in darkness.

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Notable News Open Government Tipping Point Top Issues

CYFD’s “transitory” copout: the latest attempt to deny, defame, and delay

This article first appeared in The Center Square on May 24th, 2021.

As the far-left solidifies its stranglehold on all branches of New Mexico’s state government, more than ever we need an aggressive media and informed constituency to demand accountability in a system proven to produce abuses without. These abuses have never been more readily apparent than in the aftermath of a recent Searchlight New Mexico investigation.

In May 2021, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department fired two high-level employees. Their terminations came after the two employees raised concerns about the agency’s recent shift to the use of encryption and the automated destruction of public records.

The department recently transitioned to the secure text messaging app Signal to discuss a wide range of official business, including the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the care of children in state custody. Officials asserted that they relied on Signal primarily for “transitory communications”. But what is “transitory” in the context of the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), the state’s public records law?

CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock defines transitory communications as “employee banter, routine check-ins between workers and other insignificant exchanges not subject to public records laws”.

However, the New Mexico Attorney General’s IPRA guide addresses exceptions generally: “Because of the presumption in favor of the right to inspect, public bodies acquiring information should keep in mind that the records they keep generally are subject to public inspection.”

Wait: I’m confused. IPRA itself makes no explicit mention of the term “transitory”. In fact, IPRA only mentions a few and very specific exceptions under select qualified circumstances where a record is not to be disclosed. These exceptions include matters that fall under attorney-client privilege, certain personnel records, health records, and “protected personal identifier information” such as social security numbers and birth dates, as well as a few others.

These are reasonable exemptions to protect certain information of citizens. What does this mean? It means that no government agency will turn over your social security number to a requester. If a record contains a social security number, the number is redacted. This protects the privacy of citizens.

And protecting the privacy of citizens in this way is a good thing. One of the greatest freedoms we have is the freedom from interference or intrusion, the right “to be let alone,” a formulation cited by Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren in 1890. Remember: transparency is for the government, privacy is for the citizens.

But CYFD employees are employed by a government agency. Do they have a right to privacy? In the conduct of their job, the law says no.

Obtaining public records from government agencies can be a difficult task. Sometimes the custodians are great people, they do their jobs well, and they make the request process easy. But other agencies put up roadblocks where litigation often becomes an unavoidable outcome

If it was already difficult to obtain certain records, what happens if the agency moves to a platform where text messages are encrypted and automatically deleted? That task is now impossible.

According to the law, these text messages constitute public records, regardless of how “transitory” they are in nature.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s IPRA guide offers insight to contradict the “transitory” qualification: “‘public records’ means all documents, […] regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained”.

With CYFD setting a dangerous precedent, the governor’s office offered similar advice. “Every single text message that you send or receive likely qualifies as a ‘transitory record,’” the official guidance counsels. “We recommend that you delete all text messages which are ‘transitory records’ every ten days. You may delete them more often if you wish.”

This reminds me of George Orwell’s memory holes from his groundbreaking novel 1984:

“When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.”

Well, it’s 2021 and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the obligation to provide these records to requesters has not been absolved. Denying access to records, defaming those who stand up, and delaying a solution to the problem undermines the already troubled credibility of government institutions and their leaders.

Let us conclude with the most important question of all: why would records need to be destroyed if there wasn’t something to hide?

Patrick Brenner is the Vice President of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. He leads the Foundation’s open government and second amendment efforts.

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RGF’s latest at National Review: Stagnant New Mexico a Case Study in Why Economic Policies Matter

The following appeared at National Review on May 24, 2021.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released population data showing how the population of America and its 50 states had shifted between 2010 and 2020. As has been the case for decades, Midwestern “Rust Belt” states overall lost representation, while fast-growing states in the Southwest gained seats (Texas added two and Colorado one). For the first time ever, California actually lost a congressional seat.

Yet overlooked by the national media in all of this was what can only be described as the impending creation of a population “donut hole” in the otherwise fast-growing Southwest — that is, my home state of New Mexico.

While Utah and Arizona didn’t add congressional seats as New Mexico’s other neighbors Colorado and Texas did, both states saw double-digit population growth for the decade. New Mexico’s population, on the other hand, grew at just 2.8 percent over that period. That puts the state on par with Vermont and just ahead of Maine, at 2.6 percent.

When neighboring Utah grows at 18.4 percent and Texas grows by 15.9 percent — and your own state’s population barely increases — there must be a problem. Hint: It’s not the weather. A variety of factors have been driving Americans to move from the Northeast to the Southwest, including the search of better weather. But New Mexico’s is unparalleled. It is sunnier than Florida and doesn’t have the oppressive 120-degree summer heat of Phoenix. And it really is a “dry” heat without the muggy humidity of Texas.

As if New Mexico’s minuscule 2.8 percent population growth was not pathetic enough, the details are even more troubling. Over the decade, New Mexico, a state with just over 2 million people, gained 103,506 people over the age of 65. Clearly, the state’s weather, inexpensive housing, and unique cultural offerings are attractive to a certain segment of retirees.

But over the same period, New Mexico lost 71,142 people 64 and younger, including 51,382 residents aged 24 and younger. This kind of population stagnation simply isn’t supposed to happen in the booming American Southwest. It is New Mexico’s slowest growth since statehood in 1912; and, to make matters worse yet, analysts believe that New Mexico could lose overall population when this data is collected again ten years from now.

Could New Mexico, with an ethnically diverse, rapidly aging, slow growing population, in some way serve as an early proxy for the nation as a whole? The United States population still grew by 7.4 percent over the last decade. How, then, did a state located right in the middle of the fastest-growing region of the country perform so poorly? More important, what can be done about it?

First, to begin to appreciate the extent of New Mexico’s problems, we must understand its lack of economic freedom. According to the Fraser Institute’s annual “Economic Freedom of North America” report, New Mexico is in the bottom quartile of U.S. states when it comes to the ability of its residents to keep their hard-earned money and face reasonable economic regulations.

All of New Mexico’s fast-growing neighbors are ranked higher. To be sure, this is notable but unsurprising: High levels of economic freedom are strongly associated with increased population growth.

New Mexico’s path to becoming the “sick man of the American Southwest” is complicated. Unlike California, another state with great weather and physical beauty, but terrible public policies, New Mexico has never been the “it” place to be. For its many flaws, California remains the country’s largest state in population, with dozens of the world’s most-recognizable companies headquartered there.

New Mexico has chosen a different path. Not only do we have no Fortune 500 companies headquartered here, but the state possesses only a few publicly traded corporate headquarters. Instead, since the end of World War II, New Mexico’s economy has been based on a combination of massive federal spending and a robust oil and gas industry.

Whereas California has numerous tech companies and their well-off employees to pay the state’s ever-increasing tax burdens, New Mexico remains among the poorest states in the nation. Of course, it shouldn’t be, but like California, bad public policy holds the land of enchantment back.

By any measuring stick, New Mexico is heavily dependent on federal spending. (According to WalletHub, it is more so than any other state.) Outside of Washington’s largesse, oil is New Mexico’s other major industry. Indeed, New Mexico is the third-biggest-oil-producing state in the nation. Depending on the year, it accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of the state’s budget.

One might expect that having two national nuclear labs — along with their highly educated and well-paid employees — would be a ticket to economic prosperity. Add, too, the billions of dollars in annual tax payments and the jobs and economic activity they bring, and it would seem to most outsiders that New Mexico should be the richest state in the region.

But it turns out that having sound, free-market public policies trumps massive federal “investment” and natural-resource wealth. New Mexico’s lack of economic freedom is a direct result of the state’s political leadership not wanting to do the hard work of adopting the free-market policies that would make New Mexico competitive with its neighbors.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With its excellent weather and numerous outdoor and cultural activities, New Mexico remains well-positioned for growth in the years ahead. The state’s fate ultimately lies with the voters who have to decide to elect politicians to the legislature and governor’s mansion who are prepared to enact the free-market policies on which growth depends.

The same is true for New Mexico as it is for California and various other states. Until a concerted effort is made to make the state more attractive as a relocation destination for businesses, it will continue on the same unhappy trajectory. Shedding ourselves of our unseemly title will require dramatic leadership changes. The only outstanding question is whether we’re willing to make it.

PAUL GESSING is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation