Categories
Economy Energy and Environment Legislature Notable News Oil & Gas Top Issues

Oil and gas both a blessing and curse for New Mexico

The following appeared on Sep. 16, 2021 at KRWG.

 

 

 

The news that New Mexico’s oil and gas industry has again generated record-breaking revenues for the State was welcomed by policymakers and interest groups alike. But the disconnect between the State budget picture and the economic situation for average New Mexicans could not be starker. And this is one of the “problems” associated with the state’s dependence on oil and gas.

Don’t get me wrong: we at the Rio Grande Foundation fully support the oil and gas industries. The so-called “progressive” Democrats in the Legislature who signed a letter to the Biden Administration earlier this year in support of the Administration’s illegal moratorium on new permits on federal lands definitely believe oil is a curse. We believe that New Mexicans are the recipients of a fabulous gift and that there is no reason for us to be among the poorest states in the nation as is currently the case.

New Mexico is “cursed” by bad politicians, not by its bountiful resources. But those resources all too often prop up bad decisions made by our political leaders. Until voters hold them accountable, New Mexico, blessed as it is by nature, will continue to founder.

Our poverty contrasts with our resource wealth in the same way as the new revenue picture contrasts with the state’s outsized unemployment rate. At 7.6 percent, New Mexico has the 2nd-highest jobless rate in the nation. It is not entirely surprising that our workforce participation rate which measures the percentage of people actually engaged in gainful work, also lags badly.

New Mexico’s poverty rate is high (3rd-worst in the nation) and according to the US Census Bureau the state badly lagged its region in population growth over the past decade. We were named the number one “economically-failing” state another recent report and the “progressive” Voices for Children’s own report ranks us a dismal 49th.

It’s not a lack of money or government spending. Government in New Mexico is already bigger than it is in our neighboring states by quite a bit and our faster-growing neighbors spend much of their money on state/local government than we do. It is anathema to New Mexico’s “progressives,” but it is time to return a healthy chunk of this surplus to the private sector.

The low-hanging fruit and an absolute “must” for the 2022 legislative session is reform of our state’s onerous, business-killing, and regressive Gross Receipts Tax (GRT). This regressive tax directly and unnecessarily impedes the growth of small businesses in our state. Reforming the GRT to eliminate taxes on business inputs is a must this session. It can be done with relatively minimal revenue reductions, but, reducing high GRT rates would be a welcome move.

Social security tax reform has also been discussed in recent years. The tax brings in approximately $85 million annually. Eliminating it would make New Mexico a more attractive destination for retirees.

Finally, while it is a bit of a stretch for such a left-leaning body, New Mexico could do a lot to make itself more attractive as a business destination by simply doing away with its corporate income tax. The tax generates about $130 million annually or about 1/10th of next year’s surplus. This is eminently “do-able” and when combined with long-overdue GRT reform would go a long way to getting New Mexico’s economy moving again.

New Mexico’s Democrat-controlled legislature has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use this windfall to diversify New Mexico’s economy. If they fail, voters must hold them accountable.

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

 

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues Videos

RGF talks United Stadium finances on KOAT 7

RGF’s Paul Gessing recently sat down with KOAT TV Channel 7 to discuss financial details for the proposed New Mexico United Soccer stadium. There are more questions than answers at this point in the discussion which is unfortunate given that voters probably won’t have much more information than what is currently known when they go to the polls in November.

The time duration of the bond is ONE question discussed in the story, but the location of the stadium, final cost of the project, and source of money for the difference between the $50 million bond  and the final cost which will be no less than $70 million and perhaps much more are unknown.

In this story Councilor Davis asserts that the “gap” between the $50 million bond and the final cost of the stadium could be somehow filled by leveraging lease payments from the team. Of course no lease payment mechanism has been agreed to at this point, so these are purely speculative statements by Davis both on the payments themselves as well as what, if anything, those could pay for.

Click here for a link to the story.

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Keller using shiny stadium to distract from rampant crime

This article first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on August 10th, 2021.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has decided that, despite rampant crime and a homeless problem that has grown dramatically worse on his watch, building a new soccer stadium for New Mexico United should be a top city priority. The stadium itself, to be located somewhere in the vicinity of Downtown, will cost taxpayers in excess of $70 million. That doesn’t include land acquisition, parking or inevitable cost overruns.

If the City Council approves the deal, Albuquerque voters will vote on whether to finance the project this November. It is difficult to see how financing a new soccer stadium is anywhere near the top of the city’s agenda. Albuquerque is a city with serious problems.

Recently the Journal reported on rampant crime along East Central. Of course, crime and homelessness are rampant along Central, Downtown and in many parts of our city. It would be far easier to name the few places in Albuquerque where there is not a significant crime and homeless problem than to name all the places that have issues.

In a recent report WalletHub identifies the city of Albuquerque as having the fourth-highest increase in homicides per capita in the nation (2020 vs 2021). Combined with Albuquerque’s already high crime levels before the pandemic, public safety would top most lists for local needs.

Notably, the Albuquerque Police Department budget has not changed substantially in recent years. By no means am I suggesting more dollars always result in better outcomes, but the perceived lack of prioritization on public safety implicates Mayor Keller’s belief that crime is not as important as building a stadium. Or, perhaps, as he heads into his reelection campaign, he is trying to change the subject from crime to stadium.

And then there is the Downtown location. State and local governments have spent decades trying to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque with little success. With safety and homeless problems only getting worse and Downtown businesses still not recovered from the one-two punches of COVID-19 lockdowns and protests, this is a particularly risky time to invest taxpayer dollars in a Downtown stadium.

On the other hand, New Mexicans, not just locals, have flocked to The Pit, Isotopes Park and UNM Stadium for decades. These facilities are all located in the same area of town, have abundant parking shared among the various facilities and little in the way of crime or homeless issues. United does extremely well in attendance at Isotopes Park, allowing the team to vault to the top of attendance rankings in the USL.

It seems Keller is a believer in “Mad Men’s” Don Draper school of thought: If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. He has failed in the basic government task of public safety and keeping the city clean, so now he’s distracting voters with a shiny new stadium.

In the end, economists across the political spectrum agree that taxpayer-funded stadiums are economic-losers.

To that end, the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s May 2017 report “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums” concluded, “Rather than subsidizing sports stadiums, governments could finance other projects such as infrastructure or education that have the potential to increase productivity and promote economic growth.”

I urge the City Council and ultimately the voters to heed their advice.

Rio Grande Foundation is New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, the author leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.

Categories
Audio Economy Education Energy and Environment Notable News Top Issues

Paul Gessing discusses the latest news and challenges facing our State on New Mexico Rising Podcast

Paul had a fun conversation with the guys at the New Mexico Rising podcast. You can find the conversation below on Youtube as well as audio versions of this and other podcast episodes here.

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Spaceport Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Sir Richard Branson Should Pay His Own Way Into Space Instead Of Robbing New Mexicans

The following appeared on July 21, 2021 in The Federalist:

The world is in awe that billionaire Sir Richard Branson has finally accomplished his 17-year goal of achieving spaceflight. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Unity reached 53.5 miles above the Earth with a crew including Branson. They spent a few minutes in zero gravity and returned safely to the runway of Spaceport America near the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Congratulations!

The international scene is abuzz with this latest and undeniably impressive addition to Branson’s resume: but at what cost? Branson launched his flight from Spaceport America, a project initially conceived as early as 1992 when the Southwest Space Task Force was formed to develop and advance New Mexico’s space industry. The project received seed funding through a taxpayer-approved initiative in April 2007 when voters in Doña Ana County approved the spaceport tax.

Almost every year since, supporters of Spaceport America have announced the “upcoming launch” from their facility or the need for additional tax dollars to expand the Spaceport and its capabilities. To bolster their claims for additional tax money, Spaceport America commissioned a study by the consulting firm Moss Adams of Albuquerque. The study made headlines with the implausible claim that Spaceport America began producing net benefits for New Mexico as early as 2013.

In March 2020, the Rio Grande Foundation tallied up the total costs to taxpayers, determining that New Mexicans have borne a total project cost of $275 million, while revenues approach only $54.3 million for the state over the last 12 years. The vast majority of taxpayer-funded spending related to capital projects and nearly $10 million in operational expenditures. In fact, new information shows New Mexico shelled out an additional $1.5 million in advertising expenses related to the Virgin Galactic flight.

Branson is already a billionaire. Why are New Mexico’s politicians lining the pockets of these already wealthy and successful entrepreneurs through taxpayer-funded, industry-specific subsidies? The impact of corporate welfare disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged, especially in impoverished communities like Doña Ana County and New Mexico as a whole.

In 2019, the state suffered from one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding economic lockdown of the past 15 months has certainly exacerbated our financial woes.

In fact, New Mexico trails the southwest in employment recovery. A recent report by WalletHub highlights the state’s 620 percent increase in unemployment claims, referring to the change in the number of initial unemployment insurance claims in the week of July 5, 2021 compared to the week of July 8, 2019. How can a state in this state afford to help send a billionaire to space?

Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut. But from my perspective as a New Mexican and taxpayer, he sure seems like a wild-west robber baron, holding up taxpayer stagecoaches of the poorest state in the country to fulfill his personal vendetta of beating fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the billionaire space race. He’s “Six-Gun” Branson, 21st-century robber baron, a stark reminder of our 19th-century industrial past.

In the end, his mission was accomplished. But Six-Gun Branson has only proven that he can launch his spacecraft from any airport with sufficient runway length. I’d hazard a guess that soon he’ll be riding off into the sunset while my fellow New Mexicans are left holding the $275 million bag.

Patrick Brenner is the vice president of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, he leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.

Photo Hardo Muller / Flickr
Categories
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.

 

 

Categories
Economy Health Care Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

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:

Categories
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.

 

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Taxes Top Issues Videos

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:

Categories
Economy Education Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

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