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Several questions for NM’s Blue Majority (and one for the Red Minority)

The following article appeared in Las Cruces Sun-News on November 27, 2022.

This Election Day a majority of New Mexico voters seemingly ignored the State’s manifest failures of governance. Instead, voters prioritized abortion rights while penalizing anyone who could plausibly be painted as “election deniers.”

Thus, New Mexico, one of America’s “bluest” states for decades, became even more Democrat dominant. Democrats now control every office of significance in State government as well as all five seats in Congress.

Whether the results are a sign of satisfaction with the status quo or just animus towards Republicans, the fact is that New Mexico’s governing Democrats faces serious challenges. Here are some that need to be addressed in the next few months:

  1. PNM (the State’s largest utility) has repeatedly expressed concerns about having enough electricity during the summer of 2022. The San Juan Generating Station coal plant was allowed to continue operating for an additional three months during this past summer due to fears of blackouts and brownouts. That will not be an option next summer. In fact, there has been little improvement in New Mexico’s electricity supply situation since then. What will the Gov., her new PRC, and the Legislature do to keep the lights on for New Mexicans? Waiting until the heat of next summer is not an option. Decisions need to be made right away.
  2. Speaking of the PRC, the Gov. now has a chance to mold New Mexico’s powerful regulatory body into something of her choosing. Will she prioritize geographical and ideological diversity or make the body a rubber stamp for her California-style policies? And, will they push through the Avangrid/PNM merger (rejected by the elected PRC but supported by the Gov.) as one of their first acts?
  3. New Mexico is one of just 11 states still in a COVID 19 emergency. It has been in a an “emergency” since March of 2020 (more than 2.5 years at this point). Will the new Legislature demand a “seat at the table” or continue to allow the Gov. to keep control until she sees fit? What does this mean for “democracy?”
  4. Voters approved Amendment 1 which taps into New Mexico’s permanent fund to boost education spending. With an expected $2.5 billion surplus, education spending is likely to rise even further. The State’s recent NAEP scores placed New Mexico at the very bottom across all four grade levels and subjects tested. Will New Mexico simply continue increasing education spending or will needed reforms be enacted?
  5. Speaking of that budget surplus, the Gov. and Legislature undertook a series of tax cuts in the 2022 session in anticipation of the election. Can New Mexico taxpayers expect further tax relief? If so, will those tax cuts be superficial, or will they address the State’s knotty economic challenges like “pyramiding” of the gross receipts tax?

Most of these questions are for New Mexico’s (even more) ascendent Democrat majority, but there is one question for the GOP: what can be done to boost voter turnout (and overall political engagement) in New Mexico’s most conservative areas? Overall voter turnout was 52 percent. In liberal Santa Fe County that number was over 63 percent. But, in conservative bastions like Lea, Eddy, Chaves, San Juan, Otero, Curry, and Roosevelt counties, turnout lagged the statewide average, sometimes by double-digit margins.

Many conservatives feel like their vote doesn’t make a difference either due to the State’s “blue” status or allegations of election fraud. Either way, New Mexico’s GOP must figure out how to engage its base through grassroots activism to become relevant.

No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, New Mexicans of all political stripes face more questions than answers.

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 submits public comments in support of gulf oil/gas leasing

When it comes to issues surrounding oil and gas, the Rio Grande Foundation supports the industry. This is NOT because of the billions it provides our State every year or even the thousands of jobs it creates. We support the industry because we support human flourishing and energy allows humanity to flourish.

So, we support policies that allow energy development throughout the nation and even the world, including drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), under the Department of Interior, is currently collecting comments on a proposed lease sale (environmental groups are opposed to any new sales).

Click here for details and if you’d like to comment, please do (no later than October 6, 2022). Rio Grande Foundation’s comments can be found below (they are also available on BOEM’s website: l8n-a2s4-dvbe.

The following comments are on behalf of the Rio Grande Foundation, a public policy research organization based in Albuquerque, NM and working to make New Mexico more economically prosperous.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently released plans for offshore energy development for the next five years. Currently, BOEM’s plan only includes 10 lease sales over a 5-year period in the Gulf of Mexico and does NOT guarantee those sales will take place.

BOEM does not have an active leasing plan for the Gulf of Mexico and will be unable to hold any lease sales until the new plan is finalized. This will leave a multi-year gap in lease sales in the Gulf. The proposed plan needs to be finalized ASAP to help protect consumers and businesses from high energy prices!

The Gulf of Mexico produces 15% of our nation’s energy. The Rio Grande Foundation supports BOEM’s planned lease sale specifically and encourages opening the Gulf to ensure energy prices stay affordable for consumers.

New Mexico is the nation’s 2nd-biggest oil producing state. Nearly half of that oil is produced on federally managed land. So, while a New Mexican might be expected to oppose drilling in the Gulf in hopes of making New Mexico’s product more valuable, the reality is that we truly ARE all in this together. The federal government needs to expand, not contract, the ability of energy producers to bring oil and gas to Americans and potentially Western European nations as well who are dealing with shortages driven by Russia’s invasion.

Here are a few facts:

  • In FY2021, revenues totaled $4.1 Billion from OCS oil and gas activities.
  • If drilling in the Gulf is stopped, western states like New Mexico are likely to see a decline in lease sales on federal lands located within the state in the future; negatively impacting our state’s budget and infrastructure funding.
  • Oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico is some of the least carbon intensive oil produce anywhere in the world and will play a key role in reducing global carbon emissions.
  • The Gulf of Mexico funds conservation efforts across the country, including our national parks.
  • Producing American oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico helps protect consumers from instability in global markets.
  • If drilling in the Gulf is stopped, western states like New Mexico are likely to see a decline in lease sales on federal lands located within the state in the future; negatively impacting our state’s budget and infrastructure funding.

Energy abundance is critical to our way of life. The Gulf of Mexico is a big part of America’s energy picture. I urge you to approve this plan.

 

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RGF calls out “fee” hikes at CABQ, elsewhere

We all know prices are skyrocketing as inflation takes hold of the United States economy. We also know that the State of New Mexico and City of Albuquerque have massively increased spending in their latest budgets (well beyond the rate of inflation).

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that government, especially the City, is interested in keeping overall costs and fees down for those paying the bills. RGF’s Paul Gessing spoke to KOAT Channel 7 to discuss the increased costs on your water, trash, and power bills.

 

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RGF in National Review Capital Matters: Are Electric-Vehicle Mandates Coming to Your State?

The following appeared in National Review’s Capital Matters on May 26, 2022.

New Mexico just became the 15th state to follow California’s lead in adopting “Clean Car Standards.”

Under New Mexico’s new automobile standards, roughly 7 percent of new cars sold in the state must be zero-emission in 2025. In the latest report available (3rd quarter of 2021) zero-emission vehicles amounted to just 2.29 percent of new vehicle sales in New Mexico. So, to comply with the new rule, sales of zero-emission vehicles will need to more than triple from Q3 of 2021 to 2025.

While the number of states adopting these standards is limited to mostly the West Coast and Northeast so far, anytime a Democrat is elected governor, this kind of policy could be on the table for adoption. That’s because, despite the impact that adopting such policies will have on everything from the automotive to the agricultural sectors, states often don’t need to push these policies through their legislatures for approval.

In New Mexico’s case, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham these standards through an unelected Environmental Improvement Board. California’s own in states with Democratic governors, this kind of policy could be coming your way if it hasn’t already been put in place.

The real kicker is that by subjecting itself to California’s political whims, New Mexico (and other states adopting these standards) could be forced to adopt even more aggressive “Clean Car” standards soon. California governor Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order that, if adopted by California’s Air Board, would end the sale of gasoline-powered cars in California by 2035. The board’s decision on final adoption of that rule could come in California as early as this August.

Under California’s proposed rule, 35 percent of new cars, SUVs, and small pickups sold in California (and thus other states following their policies) must be zero-emission starting with 2026 models. That number will increase yearly, reaching 51 percent of all new car sales in 2028, 68 percent in 2030, and 100 percent in 2035.

Tripling sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in two years in New Mexico means dealerships will cross-subsidize EVs by raising prices on gasoline vehicles or they will look to the state to further subsidize sales of EVs. This could make gasoline vehicles purchased in states following California more expensive, leading to more car buyers looking out of state. That would result in lost jobs, and tax revenues leaving those states. That situation will get far worse if California adopts the even more aggressive rules now under consideration.

There is nothing inherently wrong with EVs, but there are numerous public-policy implications in their mass deployment, especially if the tool is to simply mandate their sale at the state level.

Additional issues with the widespread and aggressive adoption of EVs include the need for more mining. Will environmentalists who ostensibly support EVs support the mining of everything from copper to rare-earth minerals to go along with their deployment on a large scale?

Who pays to maintain the roads? It is a relatively simple task to apply a charge to the use of EVs for road maintenance, but politically speaking, owners of EVs are currently favored. Will politicians have the courage to apply fees to electric-vehicle users to pay for the roads?

Few advocates of free markets such as  myself oppose the deployment of EVs. But it should be an organic process driven by market forces, not government mandates and subsidies where the burdens fall on those who cannot afford or have no use for EVs.

Worse, the process of joining California on EVs is being done in the dark, absent the say-so of our democratically elected representatives.

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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Op-ed: Clean Car Rule is Lujan Grisham’s latest policy imposition

Gov. Lujan Grisham recently continued her attempt to simultaneously keep the oil and gas revenue spigot flowing while enacting enough policies from the radical environmental agenda to placate her political and fundraising base.

Her latest plan, known as the Clean Car Rule, was adopted by her handpicked Environmental Improvement Board (EIB). Governor-appointed boards are far more willing to do what they are told than are unruly and sometimes uncooperative (albeit overwhelmingly Democrat) legislative bodies with their own political calculations and aspirations.

Incredibly, New Mexico’s newly Clean Car Rule undermines democracy and self-government (along with our economy) by placing New Mexico automobile regulations under the control of another state, California. The current rules are California’s and if California changes them, New Mexico will have to go along with them or reverse course and opt out.

New Mexico’s new automobile standards will require roughly 7% of new cars sold in the State to be zero emission in 2025. In the latest report available (3rd quarter of 2021) zero emission vehicles amounted to just 2.29% of new vehicle sales in New Mexico. So, to comply with the new rule, sales of zero emission vehicles will need to just more than triple from Q3 of 2021 to 2025.

But the real kicker is by subjecting itself to California’s political whims New Mexico could be forced to adopt even more aggressive “Clean Car” standards soon. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an  executive order that, if adopted, would end the sale of gas-powered cars in California by 2035. Final adoption of that rule could come in California as early as this August.

If California enacts this rule, 35% of new cars, SUVs and small pickups sold in California (and thus New Mexico) must be zero-emission starting with 2026 models. That number will increase yearly, reaching 51% of all new car sales in 2028, 68% in 2030 and 100% in 2035.

“Just” tripling sales of electric vehicles (EV’s) in two years in New Mexico means dealerships will cross-subsidize EV’s by raising prices on gasoline vehicles or they will look to the State to further subsidize sales of “chosen” vehicles. This could make gasoline vehicles purchased in New Mexico more expensive leading to purchases made at out-of-state car dealers. That would result in lost jobs and tax revenues in New Mexico. That situation will get much worse if California (and New Mexico) adopt the even more aggressive rules being considered.

Current tax credits and subsidies include a $7,500 federal tax credit and various credits for upgrading connectivity to the electrical grid further help with deployment of electric vehicles. Of course, those credits and subsidies are paid for by increasing costs on taxpayers and utility rate payers.

Deployment of EV charging stations will be another expense associated with this plan. A recent report found New Mexico to have just 401 public charging stations statewide. And those need to be maintained. A recent report from EV-friendly San Francisco found that 27 percent of the Bay-areas charging stations were not functional.

All of this comes at a time when New Mexico’s largest utility (PNM) is keeping its coal fired power plant open just to keep the lights on and says it won’t have half the solar/battery replacement power needed to keep the lights on during the summer of 2023.

There are so many problems and costs with a drastic shift toward electric vehicles that at the very least New Mexico’s elected Legislature should have had a say, but instead we have a Governor in a tight reelection battle who wants to make big promises to environmental groups and their funders no matter how disruptive or damaging to New Mexicans and their livelihoods.

The fact is that the real costs of these unrealistic and damaging policies will be borne after this election. Sadly, that is all by design.

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 National Review’s Capital Matters: “Where’s Deb Haaland”

Any car-owning American who has taken a recent trip to the pump will be able to tell you one thing: Gas is expensive. Really expensive. Indeed, as of last week, a gallon costs $4.231 — up $1.379, from a year ago. (The same trend is true for natural gas.) The crisis has evidently lasted longer — and proved more economically serious — than the Biden administration suggested.

Curiously, the cabinet official best equipped to address it has remained completely mum on the issue. I’m referring to former New Mexico political activist, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and current secretary of the Department of the Interior, Deb Haaland.

Secretary Deb Haaland manages the federal government’s onshore subsurface mineral estate — about 700 million acres (30 percent of the United States) held by the Bureau of Land Management alone. There are, of course, additional oil and gas resources to be found on tribal lands, in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and on the outer continental shelf.

According to the website operated by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, in fiscal year 2018 (which is unfortunately the most recent data available), sales of oil, natural gas, and natural-gas liquids produced from the federal and tribal mineral estate accounted for only a small fraction of total sales in the U.S. (8 percent of all oil, 9 percent of all natural gas, and 6 percent of all natural-gas liquids).

These numbers could be much higher. In the best of times, the federal government might be a more difficult partner for oil and gas companies than private landowners or even state land offices that have a much stronger financial incentive to approve permits than does Washington. Now, with the avowedly anti-fossil-fuels Biden administration and anti-oil-and-gas activist Deb Haaland in control of the Interior Department, the permitting situation is much worse.

And that’s the point of this critique. If the Biden administration really wanted to address rising gas prices, it could do so most readily by encouraging drilling on federal lands — especially on onshore resources in Deb Haaland’s home state of New Mexico.

Yet rather than pursuing that fairly simple solution, the administration would rather plead with such hostile nations as Venezuela and Iran to expand their production.

Whether it is Deb Haaland calling the shots within the administration on energy policy or whether she is just one of many decision-makers, the Biden administration’s embrace of anti-energy environmental groups and their policies appears to be the root cause. Not surprisingly, Haaland herself rose to some level of prominence by opposing traditional energy, calling for a fracking ban, and promoting the Green New Deal. “I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands,” Haaland said in an interview with the Guardian in May 2019.

Haaland is unlikely to moderate her views, even as skyrocketing energy prices have become a major problem. Instead, she avoids dealing with the issue entirely. Consider just a few examples:

  • The Interior Department and its associated agencies have not issued a single press release on the energy-crisis situation, much less about increasing production on federal lands.
  • There have been no tweets from Secretary Haaland on the issue of increasing energy production on federal lands.
  • When the secretary does focus on energy issues, as she did in a visit to Ohio, the focus is on infrastructure — cleaning up orphan wells, legacy pollution from extractive industries, and moving toward renewables.
  • Oddly, even Haaland’s calendar hasn’t been updated in nearly a year (since March 2021).

While the Interior Department and Deb Haaland have been completely missing in action during the ongoing energy crisis, Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm is at least publicly calling for ramping up production. Previously the White House was “quietly” calling for more production, but you can look far and wide for specific Biden-administration policies to increase supply. The best you’ll get is the recently announced release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Unfortunately for hard-pressed motorists and, more generally, American consumers being throttled by high inflation, the Department of Energy can’t really do anything directly to address America’s energy crisis. The department that can, though, is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the administration simply doesn’t want Haaland front and center because she has such a long track record of opposing the very energy resources necessary to solve the current crisis.

Will Haaland come out of “hiding” to lead the charge on behalf of increasing American supplies of oil and gas? I’m not holding my breath. This administration remains more beholden to radical environmental groups than any in history. Prices may come down a bit if the war in Ukraine ends, but high gas prices and constrained American production are a feature, not a bug, for the Biden administration and its interior secretary.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation.

 

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NM leaders must balance reality with green’ aspirations

The following opinion piece recently appeared in several New Mexico media outlets including the Eastern New Mexico News.

There are many things that make New Mexico unique, but one of the most noteworthy political nuances is the State’s deep and unusual relationship with energy. New Mexico’s Democratic politicians love the money and jobs generated by the traditional energy industry, but also wish to be seen as pushing back against it to placate their environmentalist base.

Nonetheless, New Mexico, a state blessed with all sorts of energy resources (both traditional as well as wind and solar) has continued to embrace Democrat politicians despite the Party’s leftward shift on energy in recent years. With oil prices skyrocketing and electricity reliability in question, it is time for voters to demand sensible energy policies from politicians.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused gasoline prices to jump dramatically after having risen throughout Joe Biden’s time in the White House (due in part to his anti-energy policies and rhetoric). And, while there are limited things to be done in the short term, in the intermediate and longer term, former New Mexican and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland should be a pivotal figure in addressing America’s energy issues. Instead, she is nowhere to be found.

Haaland manages the sprawling federal estate including the Bureau of Land Management. Immediately upon taking office the Biden Administration instituted a permitting moratorium on federal lands. Rather than changing directions and opening the leasing process as prices rose, under Haaland’s direction, new oil and gas lease auctions have remained on hold.

Expediting new drilling on federal lands is just one of many ways Haaland could get serious about reducing gas prices (and at least partially defanging Russia which relies heavily on oil and gas exports to Europe) but remains silent on the issue, even on her official Twitter account.

Speaking of natural gas which often takes a back seat to oil in New Mexicans’ minds, New Mexico leaders could and should be advocating for natural gas as a cleaner energy solution relative to coal and others. New Mexico is one of the leading natural gas producing states in the nation.

Thanks to a fracking-driven production boom, natural gas has been used to replace coal in electricity generation. This has been one of the primary tools in reducing US CO2 emissions in recent years, a fact recognized by former President Barack Obama. Furthermore, exports of US-produced liquefied natural gas (LNG) have created home-grown American jobs, narrowed the trade deficit, and helped foreign countries like China reduce their CO2 emissions.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provides the United States (and by extension New Mexico) an ideal opportunity to expand production of natural gas. Unfortunately, our State’s senior Senator Martin Heinrich remains obsessed with eliminating natural gas in favor of “electrification.”

Rather than focusing on alleviating the pain of high energy costs (driven both by the Russian invasion and Biden Administration policies) Heinrich is pushing to replace natural gas in home heating and cooking. He remains uninterested in transitioning Western Europe away from Russian energy to New Mexico-produced natural gas.

Electrification is a fool’s errand. According to new Department of Energy data, electricity costs $41.79 per million BTU’s. Natural gas costs $12.09 per million BTU’s. And that’s in today’s numbers. Electrification would increase US electricity consumption by 40 percent. Public Service Company of New Mexico was concerned about blackouts and brownouts this summer due to the shuttering of one coal fired power plant. A 40% increase in electricity consumption over current levels will increase prices well above today’s levels.

A greener and more affordable future can be had, and New Mexico can lead the way. With abundant nuclear resources, natural gas, and renewable power, New Mexico has a lot to offer the nation and the world. But first, our leaders including, but by no means limited to Secretary Haaland and Heinrich need to get serious about balancing economic and technological reality with their “green” aspirations.

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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A new day means new tax cuts for ABQ City Council

A slightly shortened version of this opinion piece was published in the Albuquerque Journal on March 20, 2022. A chart illustrating Albuquerque’s spending is found below the text.

Elections have consequences. After four years of “progressive” leadership by Mayor Keller and a left leaning city council, the election of November 2020 saw a more center-right Council. While much attention was given to the fact that Tim Keller was reelected by a wide margin despite the City’s spiraling crime problem, Albuquerque voters didn’t actually vote for the status quo.

Now, we are starting to see a shift toward a more moderate approach to the issues from City Council. Better legislative proposals are in the pipeline, but with a 5-4 majority and a hostile mayor, getting these ideas past the finish line will be a challenge requiring grassroots support.

A starting point is reducing gross receipts taxes. Back in 2018, shortly after taking office, Mayor Keller and the new “progressive” council majority raised the (regressive) GRT by 3/8th of a cent. This was a major tax increase considering that the City’s overall GRT “take” before the tax hike was 2.375%. That made Keller’s tax hike a nearly 9% increase in Albuquerque’s rate.

And, not surprisingly, that tax increased led to rapid spending growth in the City’s budget. Even when the annual budget freeze in the 2021 budget due to COVID 19 is included, the City’s budget is up 27 percent under Mayor Keller.

Unfortunately, when the City Council met recently to discuss Councilor Lewis’ plan to cut just 1/8th of a cent off the GRT (not the full amount added in 2018), Keller’s Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta claimed “this is the worst time possible” to cut taxes.

Considering that, among numerous other wasteful spending programs, the City has just undertaken a $3 million plan to make City buses “free” to riders (that’s on top of millions in annual transit subsidies), it would seem the City could do something to help residents who continue to be pummeled by rising inflation. Unfortunately, it seems that Mayor Keller and his Administration remain opposed to this reasonable tax reduction.

There are other exciting efforts underway to move Albuquerque in a more pro-freedom direction. The big question is whether Keller will stand in the way of everything or if he’ll choose his battles. For example, Councilor Bassan has proposed ending the City’s plastic bag ban which recently passed City Council.

The unnecessary and environmentally irrelevant ban on plastic bags makes daily life more difficult for thousands of Albuquerque residents. Those bags are often reused and can be recycled. They are hardly the environmental problem their opponents claim. According to Our World in Data, the entire continent of North America generates less than 1 percent of the “mismanaged plastic” on the planet.

If Keller and City Council really want to address the City’s serious litter problem, the legions of transients begging on street corners, camping throughout town, and leaving trash behind wherever they go would be a better place to start.

While a number of other important issues are being discussed at City Council that, if adopted, will move our City in a positive direction, no effort highlights the ideological shift better than the effort to restore market forces in public construction projects. Immediately after the 2020 election, a bill was rammed through Council by liberals and the trade unions to mandate that public construction projects use union labor.

Estimates are that such unfair laws called “Project Labor Agreements” boost taxpayer costs by 14 percent. A bill is now working its way through the current Council to repeal that law and instead allow all workers and contractors regardless of union membership to bid for city construction projects.

Albuquerque is a great and beautiful city, but its management has left a lot to be desired in recent years. The current City Council is standing up to big government and special interests. They deserve your support.

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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2022 Freedom Index Results Published

The Rio Grande Foundation uses its “Freedom Index” vote tracking site to  hold New Mexico legislators accountable for their stances on individual freedom and personal liberty. We have rated all bills that impact individual freedom that received floor votes for the 2022 session and thus the current Index results are “final.”

Every bill receiving a score is rated on a scale from -8 through +8 depending on its overall impact on YOUR personal freedom. In the 2022 session the most impactful vote (-8) was on SB 14, the Clean Fuel Standard. A full analysis of that bill can be found here.

The BEST bill voted on this session was HB 163, that is the bill which includes several tax cuts (RGF analysis of that bill here). It received a +4 rating in the Index.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R) who represents parts of the East Mountains of Albuquerque scored a 45 which was the highest rating of the session.

Rep. Randall Pettigrew (R) who represents Lea County scored a 43 which was good for the 2nd-highest rating of the session.

Sen. Craig Brandt (R) who represents Rio Rancho scored 33 which was the highest rating for any senator (the Senate and House vote on different bills and the House typically takes more votes and thus has higher and lower scores).

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez (D) who represents parts of Albuquerque scored -66 which was the lowest rating for any member of the Legislature.

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RGF opinion piece: Session could have been a lot worse

The following appeared in several newspapers in the wake of New Mexico’s 2022 legislative session including the Carlsbad Current-Argus on February 23, 2022.

The 2022 30-day legislative session could have been much worse. It is no secret that we at the Rio Grande Foundation have disagreed with most of Michelle Lujan Grisham’s major efforts as Governor. She surprised many of us in her State of the State speech when she proposed elimination of the Social Security tax in New Mexico.

After three years of ruling as a hard left “progressive,” the Governor’s change of tune heading into the 2022 session was notable. Is her move solely due to her impending reelection? We’ll never know, but it is a welcome shift.

The most notable good legislation that passed this session was the tax cuts (HB 163). Unfortunately, the Social Security tax was not completely eliminated, but it will no longer apply to a vast majority of taxpayers. As a bonus, military pensioners received a break on their pensions for at least the next 5 years.

The State gross receipts tax rate will be cut under the tax reform package (barring a drop in state revenues) and a small child tax credit was added. Finally, the Legislature acknowledged that gross receipts tax pyramiding on business-to-business service inputs is a problem, but they only addressed the issue for manufacturers.

These tax cuts, if fully enacted, will reduce tax revenues by $400 million or so annually, are dwarfed by the massive increase in government spending. Spending rose by $1 billion this year alone.

All of this is thanks (mostly) to the booming oil and gas industry which shows no sign of slowing down, but money being printed up in Washington also played a role. Of course, while the Gov. will tout the raises for government employees in general and teachers specifically, with the current rate of inflation, those raises won’t be as helpful to families’ bottom lines.

Numerous bad bills were considered during the session that (thankfully) died. Most notable among these was SB 14 the “Clean Fuel Standard.” While rising gas prices have contributed to the State’s budget surplus, for average New Mexicans high gas prices are just another sign of inflation. Given those high prices it was a shock that Lujan Grisham made it her mission to pass this legislation, which would have increased gas prices at the pump by 35 cents/gallon.

The bill became even more confusing when, in the waning days of the session, an amendment was added to keep the San Juan Generating Station coal fired plant in Farmington open through next summer. PNM which owns the plant is nervous that it won’t have enough electricity to keep the lights on when the plant closes in June to comply with Lujan Grisham’s 2019 “green new deal” legislation.

Thankfully, with only hours to go in the session, SB 14 died on a tie vote in the House.

Another bill that, thankfully, died was the so-called “election reform” bill. Starting out, this bill was SB 8 and it had straight party voting, a “permanent” absentee voter list, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote, and, most outrageously, a provision allowing mailed ballots to be collected as late as the Friday after the Election Day.

Through a series of amendments and changes the election reform bill became SB 144. It was still problematic due to the unnecessary loosening of voting rules, but it died on the Senate floor as time expired.

Plenty of bills never received a floor vote. The Democrat-dominated Legislature (again) failed to restore a seat at the table for itself in emergencies. On the positive side of things, Las Cruces Sen. Bill Soules’ absurd SB 204 which would have appropriated $1 billion as part of a down payment on a high-speed train from the border with Mexico to Colorado, went nowhere as well.

This session could have been a lot worse. But, a moderately-successful 30-day session with November’s elections staring the Gov. in the face does not an ideological shift make.

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