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New Mexico session another missed opportunity

The following appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, March 28, 2021. UPDATE: Originally the article stated there was a production moratorium on federal lands. There is “only” a moratorium on new permits.

New Mexico is in one of the most unusual economic times in its history. Profound forces have impacted our State over the last year in unforeseen ways.

    • The Gov. and COVID shut down much of our State for much of the past year. COVID is declining, but New Mexico remains among the most locked-down states in the nation;
    • Oil and gas prices plummeted last April due to the pandemic and an international price war, but have come roaring back and produced $300 million in “new” money and a budget surplus;
    • Democrats in Washington recently passed a $1.9 trillion dollar “stimulus” that will dump an astounding $9 billion on New Mexico State and local governments. Meanwhile the Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas permits on federal lands will cost our State more than $700 million over the next few years according to Gov. Lujan Grisham;
    • While New Mexico governments are awash in money, businesses are struggling to recover. The State’s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, 4th-worst in the nation.

To say we are living through unpredictable times would be an understatement. Oil and gas have always been volatile but are now more unpredictable than ever. This reflects broader economic uncertainty, but with the Biden Administration targeting the Industry, the Legislature must diversify our economy (this does not mean simply new sources of government revenue).

The unprecedented stream of federal spending flowing into our state is currently augmented by a flow of people. Housing markets are tight in most of our cities as Americans from big, expensive, states like California embrace remote work or simply move to states like New Mexico where they can spread out and buy a house for a lot less money.

Current trends are favorable, but long-term economic prosperity requires enacting policies that make the State more attractive as a business destination. The 2021 Legislature had a few successes but ultimately failed to enact policies that will bring long-term prosperity to New Mexico.

Despite a big budget surplus, the Legislature raised taxes on health insurance (SB 317). They imposed a new sick leave mandate on businesses, including small ones (HB 20). And, passage of HB 4, the misnamed “Civil Rights Act” will impose massive new legal costs on New Mexico governments without actually improving policing or protecting civil rights.

There were bright spots. HB 255 reformed New Mexico’s liquor licensing to make it easier for bars and restaurants long-term. HB 177 passed which allows New Mexicans to start micro-businesses by making non-perishable food items in their homes for sale.

But the gross receipts tax and its taxation of busines inputs and services remains a stumbling block for businesses. New Mexico also remains among a relatively small group of states that tax Social Security. No significant tax cuts or reforms were adopted. Also, no widespread reform of burdensome regulations (like the State’s “prevailing wage” law that artificially increases costs on public works) projects was enacted.

Some will argue that (after a decade of trying) tapping the Permanent fund to boost various education programs will help improve our workforce, but the track record of governments (including New Mexico’s) spending more money to boost education outcomes is spotty at best. Empowering parents and families with the resources needed to choose the educational option that is right for them (especially after a year of Zoom education), is more likely to succeed and at a fraction of the cost, but legislation to that effect was quickly defeated this session.

Microchip manufacturer Intel just announced that it is investing $20 billion in neighboring Arizona to build two new facilities. Such “economic diversification” is exactly what we need and what the Gov. and Legislature claim to want. Until the Legislature gets serious about reforming our economy we’ll continue riding the wave of luck, boom and bust in the oil patch, and Washington debt.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is there a worse idea in this time of Coronavirus than Pat Davis’s plan to “more fully” ban plastic bags?

Just a few days ago Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis told local media outlets that he was planning to “close a loophole” in the City’s plastic bag ban which took effect this year. Davis wants the Mayor to get rid of plastic bags that are thicker than 2.25 thousandths of an inch. The thicker bags were exempted from the law for the simple reason that they are considered “reusable.”

Instead of mandating “reusable” products, retailers (like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts) concerned about potential health implications of reusable items are banning them. Davis cares about politics whereas the retailers are doing what is sensible.

The problem in this age of Coronavirus is that Davis’ preferred reusable bags are KNOWN vectors for viruses in grocery stores. Don’t take my word for it, check out this report from Loma Linda University.

A 2018 report from Loma Linda University was based on an experiment in which researchers purposely “contaminated” a reusable bag with a harmless form of a virus. A single shopper then went through a typical grocery store and the research team tracked the spread of the virus.

Quoting directly from the executive summary of the report, “The data show that MS2 spread to all surfaces touched by the shopper; the highest concentration occurred on the shopper’s hands, the checkout stand, and the clerk’s hands.” The graphic below which was taken directly from the report reflects this.

Instead of pushing to make the plastic bag ban even more onerous and aggressive, Councilor Davis, Mayor Keller, and Bernalillo County Commission should ALL reconsider their bag bans…at least for the duration of this public health emergency.

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Freedom Index Results Highlight Challenging 2019 Legislative Session

(Albuquerque) The Rio Grande Foundation has tracked floor votes in New Mexico’s Legislature from the perspective of individual freedom (both economic and under the US Constitution) for several years. Final results for the 2019 Legislature are available now.

Unlike most legislative “scorecards,” the Foundation’s Freedom Index tracks hundreds of bills (more than 800 bills were rated this session alone) and rates them from -8 to +8. High scores are tough to come by because minus votes actually subtract from the vote total. Thus, a positive overall score is considered “good.”

Unfortunately, as Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing noted, “2019 was not a good year. In fact, when it comes to New Mexico taxpayers and their economic and constitutional freedoms, 2019 was the worst year he could recall.”

The Five Highest Point Scorers were:

Rep. Candy Spence-Ezzell
Rep. Rod Montoya
Sen. Mark Moores
Rep. Rachel Black (tied)
Rep. James Strickler (tied)

The Five Lowest Point Scorers were:

Rep. Joy Garratt
Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton
Rep. Daymon Ely
Rep. Debra Sarinana
Rep. Eliseo Alcon

The Worst Bills Rated and Voted on Included:

HB 2 (The Budget which increased spending by 11%)
HB 84 (Automatic Voter Registration)
HB 85 (Eliminating local Right to Work ordinances)
SB 489 (Forcing utilities to use 50% “renewable” electricity)
SB 2 (More than doubled film subsidies from $50 million to $110 million annually)


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RGF weighs in on NM’s Medicaid Problem

Bernalillo County Commission unanimously adopted a resolution asking the Legislature to develop a Medicaid buy-in program. But Medicaid is a very expensive program that imposes an ever-growing burden on state and federal taxpayers.

KOB TV (much to their credit) wasn’t satisfied with simply reciting talking points from advocates for Medicaid and Medicaid expansion. Instead, reporter Patrick Hayes actually talked to BOTH SIDES on this issue and allowed me to explain that there are real drawbacks to all that “free” money. Check out the well-done and relatively in-depth story below:


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New RGF brief: New Mexico has ample opportunities to reduce health care costs, improve quality

(Albuquerque, NM) – The Trump Administration failed in its efforts to completely repeal the health care law known as “ObamaCare.” Aside from the individual mandate which was repealed in separate tax reform legislation, the health care law remains relatively intact.

Nonetheless, state-level policymakers still have numerous reform measures that can be adopted to make health care work better. Often, those “levers” are available to state-level policymakers although some policy changes can be expedited and assisted with a more flexible administration in Washington.

A new policy brief by Roger Stark, By Roger Stark, MD, FACS, Adjunct Health Care Policy Analyst at the Rio Grande Foundation outlines in detail some of the ways in which New Mexico’s leaders could positively impact both the State budget and health care outcomes alike. The paper is available here.

While the federal health care law improved access to insurance, particularly in rural communities it can be a challenge to find practitioners, especially specialists. New Mexico has the highest percentage of births to moms on Medicaid, and the Medicaid systems is a large and growing burden on the State of New Mexico’s finances.

A few of Dr. Stark’s specific reform ideas include: Enact tort reform to reduce wasteful medical expenses, Expand and promote the use of association health plans, promoting telemedicine, and reforming scope of practice and professional licensing laws.

Stark will present these and other ideas at a presentation sponsored by the Rio Grande Foundation at the Marriott Pyramid on April 18, 2018 at a luncheon that will take place from 12 to 1pm. Seats are still available and can be reserved by clicking here or calling the Foundation at: 505-264-6090.

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Dr. Roger Stark Physician and Free Market Health Care Reformer: How States Can Make Health Care Better For Patients and Taxpayers

Albuquerque Event Notice

Click here for registration form.

With the (tentative) failure of Congress and the Trump Administration to completely repeal ObamaCare, the states continue to grapple with ways to make the Law work better for them.

The good news is that states still have some leeway within the law in order to make it work better and cost less. And, with an Administration in office that is more amenable to reform, now is the time for conservatives in governor’s mansions and state houses to make much-needed reforms to improve the deeply-flawed law.

Dr. Roger Stark is is the health care policy analyst at Washington Policy Center and a retired physician. He is the author of two books including The Patient-Centered Solution: Our Health Care Crisis, How It Happened, and How We Can Fix It.

Under the auspices of the Rio Grande Foundation and the Washington Policy Center, Stark’s paper “Federal administrative improvements to the Affordable Care Act and state options for health care reform” has been released in New Mexico.

He’ll be sharing his thoughts on the American health care system now as the Trump Administration’s initial reform efforts have failed. He’ll offer ideas on what, if anything might happen next in Washington on the health care reform front and offer insights into what might happen if needed reforms are not undertaken.

  • Location: Marriott Pyramid 5151 San Francisco Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109
  • When: Wednesday, April 18, 2018, 12:00 noon to 1:00pm
  • Cost: Seating is limited and can be purchased at the discounted price of $30 until Friday, April 13, 2018; $40 after the 13th

Stark graduated from the University of Nebraska’s College of Medicine and he completed his general surgery residency in Seattle and his cardiothoracic residency at the University of Utah. After practicing in Tacoma he moved to Bellevue and was one of the co-founders of the open heart surgery program at Overlake Hospital. He has served on the hospital’s governing board. He retired from private practice in 2001 and became actively involved in the hospital’s Foundation, serving as Board Chair and Executive Director. He currently serves on the Board of the Washington Liability Reform Coalition and is an active member of the Woodinville Rotary. He and his wife live on the Eastside and have children and grandchildren in the area.

Click here for registration form.

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Vaping technology could improve health, cut costs

When it comes to the percentage of its population on Medicaid, New Mexico is at the top of the heap. An astonishing 44 percent of our state’s population is on Medicaid. This is a costly situation for taxpayers in the other 49 states who pick up nearly $5 billion of the program’s annual $6 billion cost in New Mexico.

While the Rio Grande Foundation spends a bulk of its time working to reform the Medicaid program itself, this does not mean that new technologies and/or improvements in the health of our population couldn’t have positive impacts on Medicaid spending.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 480,000 people die from smoking in the United States alone every year. This is one of the leading preventable causes of death and disease in the nation. Yet, 37 million Americans continue to smoke, including more than 278,000 adults in New Mexico. The prevalence of smoking in New Mexico has a direct impact on taxpayer-funded health programs such as Medicaid, with an estimated cost of more $223 million on an annual basis.

Vaping is a leading alternative to cigarette smoking. The health effects of vaping are being studied and debated, but study after study has shown vaping to be far safer than smoking. The Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England have concluded that the use of current vapor products represents no greater than 5% of the risks of combustible cigarette use. That is because without combustion that results from lighting tobacco on fire, you remove most of the harms associated with cigarette use. A wide range of products in the U.S achieves this result, ranging from products currently on the market to products under review for future approval by the FDA. There is promise in a number of technologies that reduce the harm associated with cigarette use, even for those who can’t completely kick the habit of nicotine use.

There is already recognition in the U.S. that this could reduce cigarette use, resulting in taxpayer savings and increased public health. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products has explained, “Newer and more novel forms of delivering nicotine… could be incredibly helpful to curtail cigarette smoking if (smokers) completely switched.”

“At the end of the day, it’s not the nicotine that causes disease and death,” Zeller continued. This may be part of the reason that vaping other smoke-free alternatives has risen in popularity among adult smokers looking to quit. According to a 2015 report from the CDC, nearly 48 percent of current tobacco smokers said they had tried e-cigarettes at least once. Among those who recently quit smoking, more than 55 percent said they’d tried the devices.

In other words, large numbers of Americans are already using e-cigarettes and vaping as a replacement for the far more harmful activity of smoking traditional cigarettes. Tens of millions of American smokers, however, may be looking for even more reduced risk alternatives to cigarettes and may not have found vapor products on the market that work for them. For that reason alone it is critical for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the federal government in general to approve as many potential lower risk alternatives to cigarette smoking as possible. It is important that as Mitch Zeller has noted, “We have…an open mind.”

Better health outcomes for everyone and reduced Medicaid expenditures for taxpayers in New Mexico and throughout the nation; that is the very definition of a win-win. It is time the federal government and the FDA in particular work to expand access to cigarette alternatives like vaping rather than slowing the technology and its spread.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, a non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

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Sick leave not the (main) point of ballot measure

In October, a “sick leave” measure will appear on voters’ ballots. While touted as nothing more than an effort to require businesses to offer their employees paid sick leave, the reality is that sick leave is only one of many issues addressed in the lengthy and complicated measure.

If passed, the ballot measure will fundamentally transform the relationship between local businesses and their employees. Organizing for the Land of Enchantment is the group of out-of-state left-wing activists pushing the issue – OLÉ is the successor organization to the discredited ACORN. While it claims to work on behalf of those of modest means, Albuquerque’s economic woes will only be worsened if this measure is adopted. If it isn’t really about paid sick leave, what’s it all about?

1) Control Businesses: Employers who think “this doesn’t apply to me” or who already have generous sick-leave policies in place are in for a rude awakening. The same is true for all nonprofits and the smallest of businesses. All employers will be forced to comply with complicated new rules. For example, if an employee takes a sick day, for 90 days thereafter the employer faces a “presumption of retaliation” for any action like firing or other disciplinary action against the worker.

Employees could easily abuse this ordinance to tie an employer up in costly court proceedings. Making it more difficult to let employees go or discipline them may sound good for workers, but it is going to cause businesses to think even harder than before anytime they hire workers, especially those working for low wages and with fewer skills.

2) Boost Unions: This ballot measure provides a direct financial benefit to big labor. Albuquerque’s mandatory paid sick leave proposal specifically states the ordinance “shall not apply to workers covered under collective bargaining” – in other words, a union. Workers could soon see a portion of their paychecks diverted to union coffers as a means of protection for businesses.

Using local government to harass non-union employers and encouraging employers to unionize to obtain a “get-out-of-jail-free” card is a great way to boost the finances of a movement that continues to lose membership and popularity!

3) Tie Hands of Elected Officials: The ballot language contains an audacious line at its conclusion that attempts to tie the hands of future leaders of Albuquerque. It says, “This chapter may be amended, but … not in a manner that lessens the substantive requirements or its scope of coverage.”

Is such a provision really legal? It’s doubtful, but we won’t truly know until a future City Council decides to address some of the many problems with this ordinance. The fact that the advocates inserted such an outrageous provision into such a deeply-flawed ballot measure is one reason they are fighting so hard to keep its full text off voters’ ballots. It also sets a bad precedent for the courts, which might be inclined to allow such provisions to stand in other proposed ordinances.

Forcing businesses to pay for employee sick leave is in fact one of the justifications for the groups that have put this proposal on the ballot, but a limited, precise sick leave measure would take no more than a page. The complicated and arcane language of this (seven-page ordinance) requires voters’ careful consideration of its deleterious impacts.

If all that doesn’t convince voters, they should follow what works. Denver is arguably the fastest-growing major city in America with a 2 percent unemployment rate as of April. In 2011 Denver voters overwhelmingly rejected a far less ambitious mandatory paid sick leave proposal. The vote was a landslide, 65 percent to 35 percent. Albuquerque, on the other hand, already has unemployment of 5.6 percent, well above the U.S. average.

Voters should reject this measure, which piles more regulations on businesses and unfairly empowers both trial attorneys and unions, all under the pretense of paid sick leave.

The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, 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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Medicaid Reform Can Save New Mexico

Recently, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham joined supporters of Obamacare in protesting the possibility that President Donald Trump will repeal or dramatically alter the law. She is not alone. Liberals are hoping to defend Obamacare, despite public-opinion polls, which continue to reflect majority opposition.

There are many (and often, conflicting) aspects to Obamacare, but if Lujan-Grisham truly represented the best interests of New Mexico, she’d be working as hard as possible to at very least reform the Medicaid portion of the law – which will bankrupt our state if it is not reformed quickly.

It is well-known that New Mexico is facing budget shortfalls. These problems are due to a combination of falling oil and gas prices and anemic economic growth.

However, it was Gov. Martinez’s misguided decision to expand Medicaid that could push New Mexico toward insolvency. While touted as an “economic stimulus,” in the upcoming fiscal year, nearly half – 928,000 – of New Mexico’s 2 million people will soon receive Medicaid, a government welfare program.

Despite (or more likely because of) expansion, New Mexico’s budget remains in a deficit and our unemployment rate remains second-highest in the nation at 6.7 percent.

This year, Medicaid expansion is expected to cost New Mexico “just” $45 million. After a few years of the federal government picking up 100% of the tab, New Mexico is now on the hook for 5% of expansion for half of one year.

Next year, with the feds still picking up 95% of the tab, New Mexico’s share of Medicaid expansion jumps dramatically to about $120 million. Over the five-year period from now until 2021 just the expansion cost of Medicaid (10% of which will soon be paid by New Mexico) will cost State taxpayers $778 million. That is money that we simply don’t have – and are not likely to have, barring a miraculous economic turnaround.

Tellingly, in Gov. Martinez’ latest budget proposal, Medicaid was among a tiny handful of spending areas that a significant increase. Schools, roads, courts, prisons, economic development, and just about every other priority our state might have will soon face the money-devouring maw known as Medicaid. Without decisive the welfare program will quickly devour the budget.

Lujan-Grisham apparently doesn’t care if Medicaid destroys New Mexico so long as ever-larger numbers of its citizens receive this government program. But President Trump is not as enthusiastic about Obamacare, or its expansion of Medicaid. He and Congress will likely address problems with the entire law, possibly in the form of Medicaid “block grants.”

A block grant means that a pool of money would be made available to the states. The revenue would be limited and, depending on details, states would be given some degree of freedom to make those dollars stretch to cover the neediest people in the state.

While specifics are being worked out, a block-grant solution would completely change the state’s incentives under Medicaid. As a recent “Progress Report” from the Legislative Finance Committee recommended, New Mexico should “efficiently and effectively use state funds to maximize the ability to draw down the federal Medicaid match, especially in light of uncertain state revenues.”

In other words, Medicaid encourages impoverished New Mexico to fleece taxpayers in the other 49 states. But grab-the-cash could be coming to an end.

With her eye on the governor’s mansion in 2018, Lujan-Grisham would be wise to bone up on ways to make limited Medicaid dollars work for New Mexico’s truly poor.

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