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Issues Legislature Notable News Top Issues

The worst bills of 2021 New Mexico Legislative session (that passed)

RGF tracked all of the bills in the 2021 Legislature and rated them based on their impact on your freedoms. You can find out about those bills and how your legislators did here at our Freedom Index site.

The following are some of the very worst bills that passed the 2021 New Mexico Legislature

SB 42: increases taxpayer contributions to the Education Retirement Board (ERB) with no additional input from employees. The bill also fails to make the fund solvent;

SB 317: Among other issues this bill increases taxes on certain health insurance policies from 1 percent to 3.75 percent. The legislation represents a tax hike of $153.2 million annually initially;

HB 20: Mandatory paid sick leave (government employees were ultimately not included);

SB 112: Sustainable economy task force: creates a task force with the express goal of reducing reliance on oil and gas. Of course, New Mexico’s Democrat-controlled Legislature has had ample time to enact public policies to “diversify” New Mexico’s economy;

SB8: Gives local governments the ability to enact more restrictive air quality regulations than are imposed by the federal government;

HJR 1 Increases withdrawals from New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund by 1.25% increase and dedicates 60% for “early childhood” programs/40% for K-12;

SB 84: Community Solar: Further reduces reliability of electrical grid by providing special incentives for solar providers;

HB 2: The New Mexico budget increases spending by an already-bloated State government and provides already-well-compensated and economically-stable State employees with pay raises;

HB 4: The so-called New Mexico Civil Rights Act would actually do little to protect New Mexicans’ civil rights and instead simply opens local governments throughout the State up to more litigation.

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Issues Legislature Notable News Top Issues

First: The Good bills of 2021

The New Mexico Legislature adjourned on Saturday. While most of the bills passed were NOT good, there were a few highlights which we’ll discuss in further blog posts this week. Gov. Lujan Grisham has announced (see this rather bizarre video) where she indicates she’ll soon call a special session to pass marijuana legalization legislation.

Here are a few of the BEST bills to pass this session:

HB 255: Liquor licensing reform. While the bill is messy and not entirely pro-freedom, the effort to undertake reform of New Mexico’s anti-business liquor licensing laws is probably the best pro-business legislation this session. RGF supported this legislation once a tax hike was eliminated from the bill on the Senate floor;

HB 177: Reduce restrictions on sale of non-perishable homemade food;

HB 278: Eliminates gross receipts tax pyramiding for certain “business to business” sales of manufactured goods;

HB 55: Increases transparency for capital outlay projects by requiring the publishing on the legislative website a searchable list of capital projects passed beginning with the 2022 Legislature;

SB 304: Creates legislative redistricting commission to draw lines for various political seats including Congress and the Legislature.

Various COVID related tax rebates and exemptions, especially those targeted at bars and restaurants also passed with bi-partisan support.

You can find out more about these and other bills along with (tentative at this point) ratings of legislators at the Foundation’s Freedom Index.

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Constitution and Criminal Justice Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues

A domestic war on private prisons isn’t helpful

The following article written by the Rio Grande Foundation’s Patrick Brenner appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on March 10, 2021. It also appeared in several other New Mexico based outlets.

Contractor-operated prisons, or so-called private prisons, have been vilified among progressives, even though their success in preparing inmates for productive engagement after their incarceration should be lauded by all social and political ideologies as part of the solution to social justice reform.

House Bill 40, which would eliminate all privately managed correctional facilities in New Mexico, has been making its way through the Legislature this session.

Last month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to end new contracts between the Department of Justice and contractor-run corrections facilities, which almost exclusively house foreign citizens convicted of federal crimes. Contractor-run correctional facilities perform a valuable service. They help control overcrowding in publicly run prisons while providing more and better rehabilitation opportunities. Typically, inmates are safer, as rates of assault were lower at contractor-run facilities than rates in publicly managed prisons.

Opened in 1998, the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs is a contractor-managed facility operated by GEO Group on a former World War II training base. As with all correctional facilities in the United States, it is managed in compliance with standards set by the American Correctional Association. The facility was most recently reaccredited in 2015 with a perfect score.

The facility provides inmates with training, work programming, recreation and educational opportunities. GEO’s in-custody and post-release “continuum of care” programming, developed by experts in criminal justice, substance abuse, psychology and other areas, keeps residents engaged for positive change and is critical for them to be successful once they serve their sentence and to avoid reoffending.

A study from the Rand Corporation found inmates who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to recidivate than inmates who did not. And, often, state budget cuts hit prison programming first, while private contractors have flexibility and can invest their own resources to continue to do what is best for those in their care.

While visiting another GEO Group-managed facility in New Mexico, I met residents and staff who spoke highly of their experiences with the programming offered. Many residents have struggled with substance abuse challenges and require acute counseling and rehabilitation programming to help overcome their addiction. According to the Sage Neuroscience Center, all of the top 10 causes of death in New Mexico can be at least partially attributed to drug and alcohol abuse.

Program residents must complete the Residential Drug Abuse Program as part of their sentence. With new executive orders underway and the threat of HB 40, these programs could be shut down, potentially forcing these individuals into a jailhouse general population where they would not be able to get the services they need to survive and thrive after they serve their sentence. Revoking important substance abuse programs would destine many of these people to the damning cycle of ongoing drug and alcohol abuse, harming not only themselves but also their families and local communities.

In short, all contractor-operated facilities follow the same protocols policies and procedures as publicly run facilities under the New Mexico Corrections Department. Furthermore, the contractors have strict oversight of their operations that include on-site monitors, something the government facilities and the state lack.

Most importantly, as our nation shifts its corrections paradigm to highlight judicial reforms and inmate reentry, we should leverage all of the successful tools at our disposal to provide inmates with the care, attention and training they need inside facility walls — whether contractor run or publicly run — in order to be well-functioning members of society when they rejoin the public.

Continuing to wage war on contractor-run prisons doesn’t solve any problems or help inmates. If a program works, it shouldn’t matter who is managing it. By working together, we can rethink our prison system for the benefit of everyone.

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Economy Legislature Notable News Top Issues

Opinion piece: High-interest loans have a purpose

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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.

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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).

 

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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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.