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OAK NM in ABQ Journal: Educate yourself and vote on school board, bond, mill levy

The following was written by OAK NM’s Edwin Aybar Lopez. It appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on October 10, 2021.

This fall, voters in the Albuquerque Public Schools service area have some important issues to consider when they vote. For starters, it has been well-documented that in each of the four seats up for election this fall, none of the incumbents will appear on the ballot. In other words, the APS school board is in for some significant changes, no matter what the results are.

What that change looks like will be up to the voters.

My organization, OAKNM, sent surveys to all candidates for school board in APS and numerous other larger school districts across the state to ask for candidates’ views on big issues facing school boards. In Albuquerque, these included everything from splitting APS into multiple districts to masking kids and the role of charter schools.

Whether candidates completed these and other surveys or not, there are two clear sets of candidates: those who support and receive support from the unions and those who don’t. Typically, union support has been the deciding factor in local school board races, but, with this election occurring at the same time as the Albuquerque mayoral and City Council elections – not to mention the United soccer stadium vote – everyone expects higher turnout than seen in the past.

As an education reformer, this makes me happy. Given everything our kids have gone through over the past 18 months, our education system, already ranked at the bottom, failed our children completely. Of course, we don’t know just how badly because the state’s standardized test for 2020 and 2021 was administered to only a fraction of the student population, or not at all. Estimates vary, but we’ve seen figures for lost time ranging from a few weeks to more than a year.

Do you believe the situation was handled well? Do you think it was appropriate for unions to play an outsized role in reopening, masking and even vaccination policies during the pandemic? Are you concerned that the Sheryl Williams Stapleton scandal is only the tip of the iceberg? If so, you need to vote in this election and get yourself educated on the issues facing the district.

In addition to the school board races, APS has quietly placed (a $200 million general obligation bond and) a property tax question on ballots. The question on the ballot asks for a tax levy of $3.838 per $1,000 of net taxable value on residential property and $4.344 on non-residential. The question(s are) with billions of stimulus money flowing into New Mexico schools, students fleeing APS in droves and the Legislature sitting on “more money than they know what to do with,” per the Senate Finance Committee chairman, why is APS asking for (more)?

Here in Albuquerque and across New Mexico, education reform is on the ballot. Voters need to get educated about the candidates and issues that will, at long last, pull our state out of last place. Get out to vote and take a friend or relative with you.

Opportunity for All Kids New Mexico, www.oaknm.org, is an organization dedicated to reforming New Mexico’s education system.

 

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On KOAT Channel 7 RGF Reacts to poll showing United Stadium lacks support

Early voting at the county clerks’ offices is taking place now. A new poll says that overwhelming majorities of Albuquerque voters are against the use of taxpayer dollars to finance the stadium.

While gratified by this news, we recognize that polls are often inaccurate and that the only poll that REALLY matters is the actual election. So, with this stadium and numerous other important issues on the ballot, be sure to GO VOTE (and bring a friend or family member)!

Check out the discussion Gessing recently had with KOAT Channel 7 here.

 

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United releases TV ad on stadium: understanding bonds and taxes

In their quest for a new soccer stadium, the New Mexico United have released a new TV ad. We haven’t seen the ad on local TV yet, but you can see it for yourself in this KOAT 7 story. RGF president Paul Gessing adds a bit of balance to the story near the end.

Aside from the usual claims about “jobs” and civic pride the ad relies heavily on the idea that the ballot measure is a “bond” that doesn’t raise taxes. Of course, that is akin to saying that a family should put all of its spending on a credit card because they aren’t actually spending anything right away.

Bonds require taxes in order to be paid off. In this case it is going to require gross receipts tax revenues. And, other priorities like law enforcement and roads will receive fewer dollars than they otherwise would. Finally, of course, taxes COULD go down in the absent of the stadium.

 

 

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RGF President reacts to United pledge of financial support for new stadium on KOAT Channel 7

With Albuquerque voters largely skeptical of the proposed taxpayer-funded United Soccer Stadium, the team has decided to pledge $10 million towards the facility. 

RGF’s president Paul Gessing weighs in on this development in this story. Gessing’s comment for this story is limited to saying that the team should fund “a majority” of the stadium that will cost at least $70 million and will likely cost up to $100 million based on numerous unknown factors including construction materials and the unknown location of the proposed stadium.

Needless to say $10 million is nowhere near half of the stadium’s cost.

Of course, there remain so many unknowns surrounding this project including the actual site. The Foundation has previously discussed numerous additional issues with the proposed facility. 

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Joe Biden Is Worse Than Jimmy Carter

This article appeared at National Review Institute’s Capital Matters on September 23, 2021.

Don’t conflate Carter and Biden on Policy

By Paul J. Gessing

Amid the ongoing debacle in Afghanistan, some on the right have started making comparisons between the presidency of Jimmy Carter and that of Joe Biden. The parallels between the Iranian hostage crisis and the disaster in Afghanistan are limited, but it is notable that  the hostage crisis was the unforeseeable consequence of a series of events that the U.S. was in not in any real position to control (which is not to claim that Carter handled the events leading up to the fall of the Shah particularly well, on the contrary).  By contrast, what is now unfolding in Afghanistan is the direct and all too predictable consequence of a specific decision that — down to its disastrous timing — was ultimately Biden’s to take.

Another seeming parallel between Carter and Biden is the problem of inflation. Of course, inflation was a major issue throughout the Carter administration as well as during the Nixon and Ford years, with rates bouncing around wildly through much of the decade. But Biden’s inflation problem, like the Afghanistan debacle, is likely to end up resting  mostly on Biden’s own shoulders if his spending plans go through, with the rate having jumped from 1.4 percent in January when he took office to 5.39 percent in June.

To be fair, at least some of the inflation that we have seen so far can be put down to both the supply chain disruptions that have followed the pandemic and measures introduced, generally with a high degree of bipartisan support, during both the Trump and Biden presidencies, to help offset the impact some of the pandemic’s effects . The Fed, too, has played its part.

Persistent inflation could be avoided, but between the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan and the pending $1.1 trillion “bipartisan infrastructure” bill and the Democrats’ planned $3.5 trillion spending bill,  it is hard to be optimistic. The only question is whether Congress will oblige.

Carter, on the other hand, nominated Paul Volcker to chair the Federal Reserve. While there are disagreements as to why he did this, there is not too much dispute that he knew that Volcker would take a tough line on inflation, which he quickly proceeded to do. Biden remains oddly indifferent to the risk of inflation.  Hopefully, Congressional Republicans and Democratic moderates such as Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will thwart Biden’s spending ambitions.

As if the scales were already not tilted in Carter’s favor relative to Biden’s (at least to date), the starkest differences between the two can be found in the area of economic regulation. On this transformative issue not only was Carter much better than Biden, but he may be one of the most notable deregulatory presidents in modern history. He’s almost certainly the most unexpected.

As president, Carter led the way in deregulating America’s airlines and  interstate trucking, as well as freight railroadsand even beer brewing. Each of these reforms has stood the test of time, resulting in cheaper transportation, more industry competition, and better living standards for millions of Americans.

While Americans often complain about cramped quarters on airlines, the actual preferences of most ticket purchasers continues to be for inexpensive, “no frills” options. Meanwhile, just last year over 1,000 supporters of the 1980 Staggers Act, which deregulated much of the railroad sector, signed a letter reaffirming their support for the policies outlined in that bill. As noted in that letter, since the act’s passage,  “[r]ail traffic has doubled, rail productivity has more than doubled, rail rates are down more than 40 percent, and recent years have been the safest on record.”

In other words, deregulation worked, and it has been working to our benefit for decades since.

Lest you think you haven’t benefitted adequately from more efficient transportation, Carter also signed legislation that legalized craft brewing, something that  helped pave the way  to the numerous innovations in beer brewing that have pleased millions of Americans, from hop-heads to those who prefer fruit and chocolate-infused flavors and everything in between.

And how is Joe Biden’s record by comparison? He hasn’t touched brewers (yet), but he is already attempting to re-regulate freight railroads. A July executive order on “providing competitiveness in the American economy” encouraged the Surface Transportation Board (STB) — the federal agency that oversees economic regulations for private freight railroads like Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific — to consider imposing “forced access” more regularly.

This means that privately owned and maintained railroads could be forced to turn over traffic to competing railroads at potentially below-market rates – a clear violation of private property rights and free market enterprise as we know it. The order is akin to net neutrality for railroads. Railroads already voluntarily allow access to their competition in order to improve service across the industry, but the last thing Americans or freight railroads need is for Uncle Sam to get back into the business of heavily regulating railroads.

To date, the Biden administration has done virtually nothing to deregulate the economy. On  the contrary, aside from its  spending spree, what passes for “accomplishments” in the Biden administration largely involve undoing deregulatory executive actions on the part of the Trump administration on the environment, or imposing entirely new, onerous regulations  such as the ban on new oil and gas permits on federal lands, which has now run into trouble in the courts

These points may not convince many conservatives that Jimmy Carter was a good president (and to be clear, I don’t think he was, myself) , but perhaps they will convince some that Carter had significant and lasting accomplishments to show for his  four  years in office. Given his track record to date, Joe Biden is beginning to make  Jimmy Carter look pretty good. That may not say that much about Carter, but it says a lot about Biden.

 

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Comprehensive energy approach vital to NM future

The following was written by RGF Board member Steve Dodson. It appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on September 19, 2021.

New Mexico lawmakers must put politics to the side and embrace an all-of-the-above approach to sustainable energy if our state is to recover from the pandemic and advance our shared goal of combatting climate change.

A federal judge recently ruled in an ongoing lawsuit that the Biden administration must, for now, rescind its pause on oil and gas leasing on federal lands after more than a dozen states sued, citing that they had met the threshold for proving that the ban would result in significant community harm and economic loss. This comes on the heels of former New Mexico congresswoman and current Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee where she made clear there is no “plan right now” to enact a permanent ban on oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

This is all welcome news for New Mexicans and speaks to the need for honest conversations around the role oil and gas must continue to play in New Mexico’s future.

Our state has long been reliant upon the jobs and funding provided by oil and gas operations for critical public outlays like education, health care and infrastructure. Federal lands currently compose nearly 35% of our state’s total area – a permanent leasing ban would immediately threaten the welfare and future of our state while offering no direct alternatives to replace lost public funding and jobs.

Serving on the board of the Rio Grande Foundation, I am proud to work toward bringing meaningful reform to New Mexico. After one of the most devastating periods in history, marked by financial hardship and tremendous loss, it is vital – now more than ever – that energy policy decisions are balanced and take into consideration the vital economic benefits the industry provides to New Mexicans in every corner of the state.

The tax revenues derived from oil and gas operations are essential to N.M.’s economy, bankrolling schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure without hurting the pockets of N.M.’s taxpayers. The state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund, also known as the Permanent School Fund, is financed directly by oil and gas operations and is one of the largest such funds in the United States. It annually provides over three-quarters of a billion dollars to New Mexico’s public schools, universities and other related beneficiaries – in 2021 it is estimated the fund will produce roughly $836.5 million in benefits.

Furthermore, New Mexico’s … unemployment rate of 7.9% is tied for the highest in the entire country according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The oil and gas industry supports 134,000 jobs and contributes over $16 billion to our state’s economy annually. If this leasing ban were ever to be made permanent, it could result in (the loss of) over 60,000 jobs and nearly $1.1 billion in public funding.

Finally, the oil and gas industry is crucial to our national energy transition and continuing to meet consumer demand without increasing energy prices. Instead of focusing on demonizing oil and gas producers, our officials should be working hand in hand with them to incentivize innovative solutions like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) that can reduce carbon emissions without destroying jobs and revenues.

Although the recent court ruling and Haaland’s comments suggest the current leasing pause will come to an end, nothing is for certain. As some of our state’s lawmakers continue to try to appeal to partisan groups in Washington rather than their own constituents, it is important for all of us to remind them a balanced approach is necessary for New Mexico’s energy and economic future.

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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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.