Categories
Education Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Independent analysis: New Mexico K-12 school opening rate among slowest in US

As if New Mexico students didn’t already face serious challenges, see this quote from the New York Times (which, to their credit has been pushing for schools to reopen). 

Unfortunately, you can’t embed the map here, but as of Feb. 22, New  Mexico schools are among the least reopened in the entire nation, a situation that is problematic for our State and its future. According to the Burbio data:

New Mexico schools are 21.3% open;
Arizona is 68.6%;
Utah is 90.2%;
Colorado is 77.1%;
Oklahoma is 67.5%;
Texas is 90.8%.

Whether these states spend more or less than New Mexico on K-12 and whether or not they have expensive pre-K programs, every other state in the region is blowing the doors off New Mexico. Of course, our State’s largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, has already punted on the entire 2020-2021 school year.

Categories
Education Issues Legislature Notable News Top Issues

Let them play! And let them go to school!

The fact that Albuquerque Public Schools has refused to reopen its doors to students for the duration of the 2020-2021 school year means (under Gov. Lujan Grisham’s COVID 19 rubric) that students at APS schools won’t be able to play sports. This led to protests over the weekend.

Should APS students be able to play sports? Should they be allowed to go back to school? The simple answer is YES to both. For the duration of COVID 19 the Rio Grande Foundation has urged policymakers to maximize individuals’ ability to decide how much risk they are willing to tolerate in going about their lives (or taking COVID precautions).

Ultimately, the problem here is one-size-fits-all policies that put policymakers in charge of decisions for which they simply do not have the capacity to make basic tradeoffs. The one-size-fits-all component transcends COVID. It has been a harmful feature of the government education monopoly for decades.

Of course, private schools have been open throughout the COVID situation. They have both a financial interest in what students and families want (as opposed to what unions want).

 

Categories
Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues

While private sector workers lost jobs in droves, New Mexico government employment GREW in 2020

In New Mexico, when politicians talk about “diversifying the economy,” they usually mean “finding new taxes in order to spend more money.”

That’s partially because we have so many state and local government workers (let alone federal employees and contractors). Even a global pandemic can’t stop New Mexico from growing as the map below from The Washington Post shows.

While most other states saw reductions (often major) in state government employment, New Mexico’s already-bloated government workforce grew by 4%. That is tied for the fastest growth in the nation.

Adding insult to injury, while their numbers grew, the Legislative Finance Committee in New Mexico’s Legislature planned to give pay raises to state government employees in the budget currently being discussed in Santa Fe. Gov. Lujan Grisham gave fat pay raises to her inner-circle although (to her credit) the Gov.’s budget DOES NOT have broad based pay hikes.

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

Hurting the Economy without Helping the Climate? We’ve Got this Inside-Out

In the last month, New Mexico and the United States as a whole have witnessed unprecedented attacks on the traditional energy sector. Nationally, President Biden’s ban — for now, just described as a pause — on new oil and gas leases on federal lands has been well documented. So too has his revoking of the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

While such decisions are undoubtedly popular with radical environmentalists and their well-funded allies, it is hard to see how they — or anyone likely to follow them — will achieve the reductions in CO2 emissions necessary to make any difference to the climate. Look, for example, at the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline decision. With no available pipeline, Canada and its oil producers will simply load their oil onto trains or trucks, relying instead on modes of transport that are more risky and less energy-efficient. Indeed, doing so will involve higher greenhouse-gas emissions than the pipeline would have, especially considering the pipeline developers’ recent promise to use only renewableenergy to operate the project.

Overall, less than 10 percent of American oil and gas comes from federal lands. Cutting production from them won’t have a real impact on producers on private and state lands, nor will it reduce demand for foreign oil. Nevertheless, this new policy could end up inflicting significant economic pain on an already shaky U.S. economy.

Even if a relatively small amount of U.S. oil and gas production comes from federal lands, bans or restrictions there will have a disproportionate effect on a good number of states and their economies (like my own in New Mexico). Half of New Mexico’s oil and gas production — much of it fracked — is on federal land. Long-term curtailment of oil and gas drilling on federal lands would devastate the state’s budget.

Not to be outdone by the Biden administration, the Democrat-dominated legislature here in “deep blue” New Mexico is considering a number of proposals of their own. (Mind you, the state is one of the poorest in the Union and, thanks to fracking, is the country’s third-largest oil producer.) Chief among them is legislation that would require all new construction (homes and schools) in New Mexico to incorporate solar panels and mandate that 75 percent of all state-government vehicles be electric-only. Another bill would require dramatic reductions in “carbon intensity” for vehicles purchased by everyday New Mexicans. The technology to reduce carbon-intensity of New Mexico vehicles is left unsaid because the regulation would oblige fuel producers to work this out for themselves.

Writing for the Albuquerque Journal, two Democratic state legislators explained the proposals:

By requiring fuel providers that refine, blend, make or import fuel used in New Mexico to gradually reduce the carbon intensity of the transportation fuel itself, we can reduce emissions by 4.7 million metric tons in carbon dioxide equivalent by 2040. That’s like taking 44,000 cars off the road every year for 15 years. A clean fuel standard would not apply to retail gas stations or cause cost increases at the pump.

Yet, the heavy-handed, economy-killing efforts in New Mexico and in various state capitals across the country will do little to rein in global CO2 emissions. In fact, CO2 emissions are already being curbed in the United States through a combination of market forces and government policies. The real problem is that emissions are exploding elsewhere, most notably in China.

In late 2020, Forbes noted that U.S. CO2 emissions already comply with the Paris agreement. Goosed by an 11 percent drop in CO2 emissions in 2020 due to COVID-19–induced travel reductions, the United States has seen emissions drop since the mid 1980s. Nowadays, despite a population that is 40 percent larger than it was in the mid 1980s, U.S. CO2emissions are approximately the same as they were back then. This is a remarkable feat.

Indeed, the combination of a long-term shift in electricity generation from coal to natural gas (in no small part thanks to fracking), along with the energy efficiency generated both by market competition and regulatory pressure, fuel-mileage mandates, and the Clean Air Act, have made the United States a more CO2-efficient national economy.

China, on the other hand, is not just rapidly increasing CO2 emissions, it is massively expanding coal-fired electricity production. According to Voice of America, “China put 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power capacity into operation in 2020, more than three times the amount built elsewhere around the world and potentially undermining its short-term climate goals.”

Furthermore, according to research released on Wednesday by Global Energy Monitor, China’s coal-fired fleet capacity rose by a net 29.8 GW in 2020 (including decommissions), even as the rest of the world made cuts of 17.2 GW.

China, which still has millions of citizens living in real poverty, certainly has a right to develop its economy. But if the Biden administration is serious about addressing climate change, it ought to use the bully pulpit to cajole China to move toward lower CO2 intensity. After all, China is already the global “leader,” with CO2 emissions approximately doubling those of the United States. Those emissions rose even during the pandemic year of 2020.

Even if the Biden administration and states such as New Mexico make a concerted and focused effort to reduce CO2emissions (an open question to say the least), the United States won’t be able to halt climate change. Any CO2reduction we make is only displaced by a doubling from China, who seems more serious about developing its own economy than the Biden administration and many “blue” states like New Mexico are about theirs.

President Joe Biden and New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham telling us to pay more for energy while destroying thousands of energy jobs is a hard pill to swallow even if we were to make serious progress toward achieving our climate goals. But to do immense damage to the U.S. and New Mexico economies while allowing American progress on CO2 emissions to be undermined by our economic and geopolitical rivals in China is woefully misbegotten.

Image result for china coal plant

Categories
Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Good/Bad/Ugly of NM’s “Virtual” 2021 Session (to date)

New Mexico’s 2021 session is truly unprecedented. The Rio Grande Foundation has been involved in the New Mexico Legislature for more than a decade, but we’ve never seen anything like the  locked down 2021 legislative session.

While we find the locked-down nature of the session has hugely-problematic, many Democrats have claimed that the “virtual” session has allowed new participants into the process.

Here’s our take on the good, bad, and ugly of the virtual 2021 session:

Good: Not commuting to Santa Fe. Unless you are from Santa Fe, not having to make your way to the Capitol is a good thing. An hour in the car each way from Albuquerque is nothing compared to up to 5 hours one way from other parts of our State. Of course, “Zoom” technology has been around for years, there is no doubt that if the Legislature was serious about hearing new voices they could have done (and we asked for) YEARS ago.

As the head of an organization that cares about a large number of bills, it is easier to track and engage with the large number of bills in committee during a “virtual” session.

BAD: Simply put, most of the useful information exchanged between legislators, advocates, and lobbyists during a legislative session comes outside of committee hearings in the halls and “lobbies” of the Roundhouse where frank, private conversations can be had and information exchanged. That is being missed and we won’t know how badly it is missed until the laws passed this session take effect.

Also, not having the Legislature open to the public just FEELS bad. Behind a chain link fence and with no public access to the people or the process, the Roundhouse goes from “the people’s house” to “no trespassing” very quickly. It really defies New Mexico values and the accessibility people once had to the process (hopefully they do again).

UGLY: Without the public in attendance and watching, will this fully “progressive” legislature feel empowered to pass any number of policies? Obviously, the last election provided the legislative majorities they need to push whatever they want. Will they hold back due to the pandemic’s impacts, budgetary uncertainty, or electoral concerns? We won’t know the answer to that until late March when the session is over.

 

Categories
Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Bill Richardson’s tax cuts WERE a success!

It has now become an article of faith on the left in New Mexico that Gov. Bill Richardson’s 2003 tax cuts were a failure.Several tax hike bills including (at least) two that would raise New Mexico’s personal income tax rate have been introduced this session including:

SB 56: Sen. Bill O’Neill’s bill to increase New Mexico’s top personal income tax rate to 8.2% (the bill was heard in Senate Tax on Thursday);

SB 89: Sen. Bill Tallman’s bill to increase New Mexico’s top personal income tax rate to 6.5%;

You MAY recall that the Richardson cuts took New Mexico’s top income tax rate from 8.2% down to 4.9% over 5 years where it was until 2019. The cuts ALSO cut capital gains tax rates in half. These were REAL tax cuts and they passed the Democrat-controlled House without a single dissenting vote and passed the Senate by a margin of 39 to 2 and were signed into law on Valentine’s Day, 2003.

Richardson and Were Richardson’s tax cuts REALLY a failure? No. In fact, none other than the liberal “fact checking” site PolitiFact said that Richardson’s job creation claims (made in advance of his 2008 reelection campaign) were “mostly true.”

As PolitiFact noted in 2007,

Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that New Mexico gained 75,800 jobs from December 2002 to July 2007, which is slightly lower than Richardson’s claim.

As our friends at FactCheck.org note in this article , Richardson has consistently cited the higher number, even when the actual number was lower.

For our ruling, however, we’ll rely on the current 75,800 and call it mostly true.

PolitiFact further quoted none other than NMSU economist (one of NM’s top economic gurus) Jim Peach approvingly.

Peach said Richardson’s tax incentives and income tax cuts have created a favorable atmosphere for business that is a stark change from the state’s mentality in the mid-1970s, when state officials refused to provide help to a promising young company named Microsoft.

The climate here has changed considerably since then, Peach said. Bill Richardson has been a big part of that. He’s not the whole story, but he’s been a big part of it.

The fact is that if Richardson were governor today he would be too conservative for New Mexico’s Democratic Party on both guns and taxes.

 

Categories
Economy Legislature Notable News Open Government Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Basic facts as legislative session gets rolling

The following appeared in Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, January 24, 2021.

To say that this is an unprecedented legislative session in New Mexico is an understatement. After some public debate over how and when the Legislature was going to meet, the Democrats who overwhelmingly control both houses have decided to plow forward with an entirely “virtual” session.

The Roundhouse is closed to the public and if you want to engage with legislators or committees you need to get online and watch, testify, or send emails or calls to their offices. By itself this COVID-related change is both dramatic and problematic.

Then, in apparent reaction to the US Capitol riots of January 6 and the supposed threat of violence at state capitols across the nation, the Roundhouse has been fenced off with dramatically-enhanced security measures implemented to the point that only legislators and staff can get near the facility. We don’t know how long these measures will be in place, but this simply can’t be the “new normal.”

For all its many flaws New Mexico’s Legislature has traditionally been among the most open and accessible in the nation. We have advocated the addition of remote testimony in this vast, sparsely-populated State, but never at the expense of having in-person access completely eliminated during a session.

All advocates for open government must be vigilant in making sure that this crisis not be used to limit open government and transparency in our State.

And then there is the economy. We certainly want New Mexicans to be able to get back to work as quickly as possible. But as the Legislature meets to discuss long-term policy changes in our State we need to agree on a few important facts which undergird our economic situation and have done so for many years.

  • We know New Mexico is an impoverished state. Too many of our citizens and especially young people face hardships in the best of times. Of course, those problems have been worsened by the pandemic and the political reaction to it.
  • New Mexico lacks something called economic freedom. According to an annual report from the Canada-based Fraser Institute, a free market think tank, our State is the 42nd-most free state in the nation. Our neighbors are all much freer. Worse, because data are not available instantaneously the data available are for 2018, Susana Martinez’s last year in office. We have seen a dramatic erosion in economic freedom under the current Administration. Lack of economic freedom has real impacts on people. The study found an 8.1% reduction in median incomes in the least free states.
  • New Mexico’s tax burdens are heavy. Because it is poor and federal taxes are “progressive” many tools claim our State has low taxes. In reality, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators, when ranked as a percentage of personal incomes, New Mexico’s state tax burden is 7th-highest in the nation.
  • Given our heavy tax burden it will come as no surprise that state and local spending is high. In fact, according to com consuming 22.98% of our overall economy, New Mexico governments spend a smaller share of the economy than only West Virginia and Alaska.

During this 60-day legislative session we expect a slew of tax hikes, spending programs, and new regulations to be considered and passed. Unfortunately, those mostly take us even further in the wrong direction and will further make us an island of relatively slow economic (and population) growth and poverty in the American Southwest.

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
Constitution and Criminal Justice Legislature Local Government Notable News Top Issues

RGF had a day in court (10th Circuit to be exact) defending free speech

The Rio Grande Foundation is a staunch advocate for free speech and the ability for speech by those who want to speak without having their name and personal information spread all over the Internet and media outlets.

Dating back to our efforts against Santa Fe’s proposed (and defeated) soda and sugary drinks tax, the Foundation has been fighting against Santa Fe’s donor disclosure rule with legal representation from Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. You can read the details of the hearing and the case itself here.

The issue of free  and private speech is relevant in the US Congress these days with the US Congress considering HR 1, legislation that would chill free speech.

Categories
Issues Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Initial wave of Worst Senate Bills to watch in 2021

With the Legislature meeting behind closed doors in a “virtual” environment, the potential for mischief is extreme in the 2021 Legislature. We know that Gov. Lujan Grisham has a few stated priorities for the session, but when it comes to the most “progressive” (big-government-oriented) Legislature in New Mexico history, some truly awful bills will be introduced (and possibly passed).

In a 60 day session there will be plenty of bills introduced, but here are a few “pre-filed” and early candidates. We recommend you 1) sign up for our email list at this page, 2) check our “Freedom Index” regularly 3) use the bill tracking feature on the Legislature’s website to track notable bills.

Here are SOME of the initial “worst of the worst” starting in the Senate (this is the New Mexico Legislature, this list will get pretty long once all bills are introduced).

SB 11: Imposes regulations on vehicles to drastically reduce CO2 emissions from motor vehicles used in New Mexico;SB 55: Require social, cultural, and racial “impact statements” for all bills in the Legislature;

SB 31: Require every school district in New Mexico hire at least one full-time nurse;

SB 56: Increase New Mexico’s top personal income tax rate to 8.2%;

SB 89: Increase New Mexico’s top personal income tax rate to 6.5%;

SB 63: Require ALL newly-constructed schools to have photovoltaic solar panels;

SB 67: Requires ALL new energy to be “green” produced with renewables;

SB 81: Requires a “racial impact statement” for all crime legislation;

SB 110: Increase employer (taxpayer) contribution to the Educational Retirement Board pension system.

SB 130 Requires 75% of New Mexico State-owned vehicles to be powered by electricity;

SB 132 Requires ALL newly-constructed homes to have photovoltaic solar panels AND charging stations for electric vehicles;

SJR 3 Enacts “green” amendment to New Mexico’s Constitution.

We’ll look at the worst bills from the House tomorrow.

Categories
Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Some quick facts before the 2021 legislative session kicks off

As the first-ever “virtual” New Mexico legislative session kicks off we believe it is important for New Mexico policymakers to have some basic information about New Mexico’s economy.

  1. New Mexico tax burdens are not low relative to neighboring states. The chart below is from the Federation of Tax Administrators. With far heavier tax burdens than its neighbors, New Mexico’s tax burden ranks 7th-heaviest among states.
  1. According to the website US Government Spending state and local spending in New Mexico is far higher than in neighboring states as a percentage of the state economy (GDP). The data are constantly being updated, but New Mexico consistently has the biggest-spending state and local governments in the US.
  1. When it comes to raising the minimum wage, mandatory paid sick leave, or a variety of other economic policies, New Mexico lags dramatically. The data in the Fraser Institute analysis below is from 2018 which is the final year of Susana Martinez’ time in office. New Mexico desperately needs MORE economic freedom, not less.

4.. We already know New Mexico is among the poorest states in the US. If the Legislature is serious about reducing poverty and improving outcomes for children and the rest of the population (regardless of race or gender) it needs to have a serious conversation about economic freedom issues. like taxes and regulations.