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Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Gov.’s attempt to claim role of ‘tax-cutter’ laughable

The following op-ed appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on December 28, 2021.

Recently, Gov. Lujan Grisham posted on Facebook in support of her plan for a small .25 percentage point reduction in the State’s gross receipts tax rate, saying, “Lower taxes would enable them to grow their business and hire more people, including local adults with special needs that they focus on employing – and we’re going to make it happen.”

It sounded almost like something we at the free-market Rio Grande Foundation would write and

the Gov.’s statement is true as far as it goes. While we support ANY effort to lower tax burdens on New Mexicans, Lujan Grisham’s plan for a small .25 percentage point reduction in the State’s GRT is totally inadequate and clearly driven by her coming reelection and the fact that she faces a very tough race.

According to the Gov., her plan would cut taxes by $145 million annually. But since she took office, Lujan Grisham has signed tax hikes totaling more than $250 million annually. She also conveniently omits the fact that the oil and gas industry has created a $1.6 billion surplus, the likes of which New Mexico has never seen. Clearly given the economic trials facing average New Mexicans, we deserve much more than a tiny tax cut that fails to even make up for her past tax hikes.

The very same thing the Gov. claims about lower taxes helping people grow their businesses were said in opposition to tax hikes she signed into law in 2019 (HB 6) and 2021 (SB 317). Among the tax hikes passed in these bills were hikes in personal income, motor vehicle, hospital, and health insurance taxes. Clearly, as with gross receipts taxes, much of the burden of these tax hikes is also borne by businesses and affects their ability to hire and grow their businesses.

Worse, none of these tax hikes were necessary. The 2019 tax hikes were passed at a time of record budget surpluses alongside an 11 percent budget increase. The 2021 tax hike was a blatant revenue grab. The Democrat-controlled Legislature and Gov. Lujan Grisham were presented with an opportunity to generate millions of additional tax dollars by re-imposing (and retaining the proceeds from) a federal health insurance tax that had been repealed by the Trump Administration.

Simply allowing the federal government’s health insurance tax (imposed under ObamaCare) to go away would have had the very same positive impacts on businesses and their bottom lines as any other tax reduction, but that wasn’t an election year. This is.

Directly imposing higher taxes is only one of numerous ways in which government makes doing business harder than necessary. In her time in office Lujan Grisham signed a new medical malpractice law that doctors and other medical professionals say will cause them to close or leave. The Energy Transition Act has already begun increasing electricity costs and PNM is concerned about reliability as soon as next summer due to the closure of San Juan Generating Station.

While the Gov. is busy positioning herself as a pro-business “tax cutter” she is also pushing a new “Clean Fuel Standard” that, based on a draft of the bill, would increase gasoline prices by 35 cents per gallon. Every New Mexico business and resident (even if they drive an electric vehicle) would see further price hikes above and beyond current inflation if that bill becomes law.

Sadly, the impact of these anti-business law is to keep New Mexico poor. It is no surprise that New Mexico has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation despite the massive oil and gas surplus.

Lujan Grisham’s management of New Mexico’s economy both before and throughout the Pandemic have been abysmal and her claim to be a pro-business “tax cutter” are laughable.

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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Economy Legislature Notable News Research Top Issues

New Mexico’s low labor participation rate has plummeted during COVID

New Mexico has always struggled with low workforce participation levels. It was hardly a surprise when a national study earlier this year called New Mexico the “least hardworking state” in the entire nation. The COVID 19 pandemic AND the federal/state governments’ fear mongering, mask and vaccine mandates and massive social spending programs have done nothing to lure people back into the workforce.

Alas, as the chart below shows (using data from Bureau of Labor Statistics) New Mexico’s workforce participation rate has remained depressed even relative to other state. In January of 2020 the rate for NM was 55.5%. As of October 2021 that rate was 53.3% , a decrease of 4%.

Not only did New Mexico START with lower workforce participation than its neighbors, but it has seen a the steepest decline of any of its neighboring states. No state has gotten back to January 2020 workforce participation rates, but Oklahoma and Utah have gotten close.

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Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

How does New Mexico stack up with big red and blue states?

Our friend Vance Ginn, Chief Economist at the Texas Public Policy Institute, recently compared his state of Texas and another prominent “red” state (Florida) with the biggest “blue” states of California and New York on a range of basic economic statistics.

You can see the data below which is loosely based on Ginn’s analysis linked above. The data are interesting to say the least.

New Mexico is definitely a “BLUE” state. It suffers from terrible workforce participation and unemployment rates and government consumes an outsized portion of our economy (even when compared with “blue” states).

Notably, New Mexico is also even less attractive as a moving destination than either big “blue” state. Ironically, New Mexico is the least “unequal” state as measured by the Top 10% income share and even New Mexico’s poverty rate isn’t “that” bad (compared with the other states) when the Census Bureau includes living costs and government benefits.

Notably, as it is heavily-reliant on oil and gas production and revenues, New Mexico’s economy is much more resource-driven than any of the other states studied.

Economic Freedom of North America (2021)
US Census Percent Population Growth 2010-2020
State Business Tax Climate (2021)
State Economic Outlook Rankings (2021)
State & Local Spending % GDP 2021 
State & Local Tax Burden % of income 2020
Avg. Unemployment Rate 2016-2020
Avg. Labor Force Participation 2016-2020
Avg. Top 10% income share (2000-2018)
Supplemental Poverty Measure (2017-2019)
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Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Lujan Grisham’s GRT cut fails to address issues

The following appeared in Las Cruces Sun-News on Sunday, November 28, 2021.

For many years the Rio Grande Foundation has pushed the Legislature to take steps to address fundamental problems with the State’s gross receipts tax. We’ve regularly labeled it New Mexico’s “original sin” of economic policy due to the tremendous harm it does to New Mexico’s economy.

And, while we support ANY effort to lower tax burdens on New Mexicans, the Gov.’s plan for a small .25 percentage point reduction in the State’s GRT burden hardly makes up for recent increases. With a $2 billion budget surplus looming this January and the Senate Finance Committee Chair saying the Legislature has “more money than they know what to do with,” it is time to really reform the GRT, not provide an election year sop to struggling businesses and families.

Currently, the City of Las Cruces GRT is 8.3125%. Back in 2010 that rate was “just” 7.0%. The Gov.’s reduction, if implemented, won’t even get the rate back to 8.0%. Las Cruces is not alone. GRT rates have risen dramatically over the last 20 years due to a combination of state and local policies.

But the most important problem with the GRT is its unfair treatment of small businesses. Accountants, bookkeepers, even medical professionals, and attorneys (and many others) all must charge this tax on top of the cost of their services. Alternatively, service providers located in other states do not have to charge the GRT. This makes New Mexico especially unattractive as a location for small businesses. And it is those small businesses that grow into tomorrow’s big businesses which can employee hundreds or even thousands of workers and boost state and local economies.

With the Legislature expected to convene in January with up to $2 billion in surplus revenues generated primarily from oil and gas, now is the time to focus on fundamental reform. According to the Gov. this tax cut will reduce revenues by $145 million annually. That’s a tiny fraction of the surplus. At a bare minimum proper GRT reform needs to eliminate the taxation of these business services. It will be easier to make the change when there is plenty of revenue available.

The GRT and much-needed reforms to it are not a partisan issue. Republican Jason Harper has introduced reform legislation in recent years with former Senate Finance Committee Chair, Democrat John Arthur Smith. More recently, powerful House Appropriations Committee Chair Democrat Rep. Patty Lundstrom told attendees of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) conference in October that “tax pyramiding” needed to be addressed by the Legislature in the upcoming session.

While taxing services is the fundamental problem with the GRT, there are others. Specifically, while the tax was originally conceived as being applied at VERY low rates and broadly, the political process has led to the current, sorry state of high rate, exemption-filled tax structure.

Special interests line up in Santa Fe to lobby for exemptions and deductions for their business or industry and the Legislature is more than happy to offer those exemptions. And, whether you support taxing groceries or not, the process of eliminating that tax has directly contributed to the massive rise in GRT rates in recent years.

In addition to addressing taxes on business inputs and services, the Legislature needs to put a stop to the special exemptions while also constraining the future ability of local governments to raise rates.

A tiny tax cut passed as we head into an election year with a massive budget service may or may not be good politics, but it certainly isn’t enough to address the fundamental problems with New Mexico’s GRT.

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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Economy Legislature Notable News Research Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

New Mexico falls further behind in latest economic freedom report

According to the 2021 edition of the Economic Freedom Index of North America report from the free market Canadian think tank Fraser Institute, New Mexico, in calendar year 2019 (the first year of the Lujan Grisham Administration), slid from 42nd (in last year’s report which used data from the final year of the Martinez Adm.) down to 46th.

While New Mexico has long lagged its neighbors and most of the nation in economic freedom, the 2019 legislative session saw a massive uptick in government spending, tax hikes, newly-imposed regulations, and numerous other policies that make New Mexico less business-friendly. All of New Mexico’s neighbors are among the most economically-free states in the nation.

Not surprisingly, most economically-free half of jurisdictions have higher incomes than do the least economically-free jurisdictions like New Mexico. It is not surprising that New Mexico is among the most impoverished states in the nation.

New Hampshire, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas, were among the MOST economically-free states in the latest report (full rankings below) while California and New York were among the few states that trailed New Mexico. Click on the image below for the FULL report:

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

Santa Fe New Mexican op-ed: An energy crisis looms in New Mexico

The following appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on October 24, 2021.

Western Europe is facing an energy crisis this winter. Prices have skyrocketed. Natural gas is 400 percent higher than the start of 2021 while coal is up over 300 percent.

As if high prices weren’t enough of a problem, 40 percent of the natural gas that Europe uses comes from Vladamir Putin’s Russia, an unreliable supplier to say the least.

New Mexicans should take heed. Thankfully, despite the Biden Administration’s permitting ban on federal lands (since invalidated by a judge), New Mexico has steady supplies of oil and natural gas.

Those supplies help protect us from wild price swings and supply disruptions like those that could cause massive economic pain and human suffering in Europe this winter.

While we’ll be fine this winter, New Mexico’s largest utility is facing serious challenges finding enough electricity by next summer.

Due to the Energy Transition Act of 2019 which forms the cornerstone of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s “Green New Deal” agenda, the San Juan Generating Station is slated to be permanently shut down next June during the hottest part of next summer.

PNM executives have stated clearly that the hunt for “renewable” power to replace San Juan Generating Station is not going well. Even in the best of circumstances “renewables” like solar and wind are inconsistent and require backup like batteries, but the pandemic has hit supply chains hard and projects are being delayed.

Unless Gov. Lujan Grisham acts quickly to keep San Juan Generating Station open, the plant will be taken offline as scheduled this summer and blackouts and brownouts could be the result. If you don’t believe me, Tom Fallgren, PNM’s vice president of generation told the Public Regulation Commission recently, in discussing the possibility of brownouts and blackouts said, “Am I concerned? Yes. Do I lose sleep over it? Yes. Can we solve it? Yes.”

He further noted that PNM practices for scenarios, such as brownouts, have detailed procedures to handle them and prioritize power for places such as hospitals.

Finally, Fallgren noted, “We are looking at any and all options. … And we continue to beat the bushes, so to say, for other opportunities as well.” Are you feeling reassured? I’m not. Interestingly enough, PNM continues to reject new natural gas-powered resources in New Mexico as replacement supply.

Even if we escape serious power outages this summer, the issue is not going away. In fact, it will only get worse. In 2023 and 2024, PNM is abandoning its leases for power from Palo Verde (a nuclear power plant in Arizona), and by the end of 2024, PNM will no longer receive power from the Four Corners plant, yet another coal-fired plant here in New Mexico.

Ironically, as has been discussed in PRC hearings, the Navajo Tribe wants to take over Four Corners plant (saving jobs and tax revenues) while environmentalists are pushing hard to shut it down completely. Regardless of what happens next summer or over the next few years, these are policy-driven decisions made by Lujan Grisham and Democrats in the Legislature. They could have massive implications for New Mexico families.

Already, with the price of everything already going up, New Mexicans’ electric bills rose 5 percent just last year. Those rate hikes will continue to escalate for years into the future regardless of whether PNM or Avangrid is in charge. Wasn’t the Energy Transition Act supposed to hold the line on price increases?

New Mexicans and their elected officials must be aware of the very real problems facing them as June of 2022 approaches. It is not too late to prevent this crisis.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, a tax-exempt organization dedicated to promoting prosperity and individual responsibility.

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

Oil and gas both a blessing and curse for New Mexico

The following appeared on Sep. 16, 2021 at KRWG.

 

 

 

The news that New Mexico’s oil and gas industry has again generated record-breaking revenues for the State was welcomed by policymakers and interest groups alike. But the disconnect between the State budget picture and the economic situation for average New Mexicans could not be starker. And this is one of the “problems” associated with the state’s dependence on oil and gas.

Don’t get me wrong: we at the Rio Grande Foundation fully support the oil and gas industries. The so-called “progressive” Democrats in the Legislature who signed a letter to the Biden Administration earlier this year in support of the Administration’s illegal moratorium on new permits on federal lands definitely believe oil is a curse. We believe that New Mexicans are the recipients of a fabulous gift and that there is no reason for us to be among the poorest states in the nation as is currently the case.

New Mexico is “cursed” by bad politicians, not by its bountiful resources. But those resources all too often prop up bad decisions made by our political leaders. Until voters hold them accountable, New Mexico, blessed as it is by nature, will continue to founder.

Our poverty contrasts with our resource wealth in the same way as the new revenue picture contrasts with the state’s outsized unemployment rate. At 7.6 percent, New Mexico has the 2nd-highest jobless rate in the nation. It is not entirely surprising that our workforce participation rate which measures the percentage of people actually engaged in gainful work, also lags badly.

New Mexico’s poverty rate is high (3rd-worst in the nation) and according to the US Census Bureau the state badly lagged its region in population growth over the past decade. We were named the number one “economically-failing” state another recent report and the “progressive” Voices for Children’s own report ranks us a dismal 49th.

It’s not a lack of money or government spending. Government in New Mexico is already bigger than it is in our neighboring states by quite a bit and our faster-growing neighbors spend much of their money on state/local government than we do. It is anathema to New Mexico’s “progressives,” but it is time to return a healthy chunk of this surplus to the private sector.

The low-hanging fruit and an absolute “must” for the 2022 legislative session is reform of our state’s onerous, business-killing, and regressive Gross Receipts Tax (GRT). This regressive tax directly and unnecessarily impedes the growth of small businesses in our state. Reforming the GRT to eliminate taxes on business inputs is a must this session. It can be done with relatively minimal revenue reductions, but, reducing high GRT rates would be a welcome move.

Social security tax reform has also been discussed in recent years. The tax brings in approximately $85 million annually. Eliminating it would make New Mexico a more attractive destination for retirees.

Finally, while it is a bit of a stretch for such a left-leaning body, New Mexico could do a lot to make itself more attractive as a business destination by simply doing away with its corporate income tax. The tax generates about $130 million annually or about 1/10th of next year’s surplus. This is eminently “do-able” and when combined with long-overdue GRT reform would go a long way to getting New Mexico’s economy moving again.

New Mexico’s Democrat-controlled legislature has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use this windfall to diversify New Mexico’s economy. If they fail, voters must hold them accountable.

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

 

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Education Legislature Notable News Top Issues

Las Cruces Sun-News piece: Back to school brings big challenges in New Mexico

 

 

School has begun for most New Mexico students. While every school year is different, this year is certainly more different than most. For starters, students are returning to “semi-normal” classrooms after 1.5 years of remote learning and relative chaos. Unfortunately, as of this writing schools in Rio Rancho, Carlsbad, Los Lunas, and Roswell have “temporarily” had to again go “virtual.”

Lost classroom time has had a big impact on academic outcomes for New Mexico students. According to the Legislative Finance Committee, the Legislature’s “in-house” think tank, K-12 students in New Mexico have fallen behind anywhere from six months to two years. Furthermore, lost classroom time will widen existing learning gaps, particularly for low-income families.

Many New Mexicans likely assume that students across the nation, not just in New Mexico, spent most of the 2020-2021 school year doing remote learning, that is not the case. According to the Burbio website which tracks various COVID-related policies, Utah students spent more than 80% of the year in their classrooms last year and Colorado students were in their classrooms nearly 65% of the time. New Mexico students were in their classrooms only about 33% of the time. According to Burbio, New Mexico students lost more classroom time than students in all but five other states last year.

Even prior to COVID, we knew that New Mexico students perform worse than students in virtually any other state. Catching up from both the preexisting learning gap and the one created last year is going to be a serious challenge. Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) is in chaos. After just 2.5 years in office, Gov. Lujan Grisham is now on her 4th Education Secretary with the recent departure of Ryan Stewart.

At a July LFC meeting several legislators and tribal leaders raised some difficult questions about the ability of the State’s education system as it currently exists to improve student outcomes.

These were not Republicans who have long been frustrated by the growing K-12 budgets absent improved results. Rather, Democrat Rep. Derrick Lente (Sandia Pueblo) expressed concern for Native American students saying they, “have been left to rot because of where they come from” for many years. How much longer do our children have to fail for us to get this right?” Lente continued.

Another powerful, “progressive” Democrat (just named to the 2nd-highest position in the House) Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque said he had, “started to question whether more money is actually needed beyond what we’ve invested. I think we’re losing steam,” Martinez said, “I’d hate to be back here in 20 years talking about how nothing has changed.”

To say that we at the Rio Grande Foundation concur with these legislators’ concerns would be an understatement. We have long held that robust reforms including both increased choice and accountability are critical to improving New Mexico’s educational performance.

Of course, talking about a problem and taking action to solve it are two very different things. In this year’s 60-day legislative session several “school choice” bills were introduced only to be killed immediately.

Will the upcoming 2022 session be different? That is ultimately up to voters. Across the nation school choice is spreading rapidly in states where education policy is not controlled by unions. Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Legislature is not one of those states. School board elections are coming this fall. If you are concerned about education policy in New Mexico, educate yourself on school board candidates and vote this November. The Rio Grande Foundation’s sister organization Opportunities for All Kids New Mexico www.oaknm.org is currently surveying school board candidates and publishing the results online.

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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Education Legislature Notable News RailRunner Spaceport Top Issues

New Mexico politics summed up in one handy Trever cartoon

To say that we’re fans of Albuquerque Journal editorial cartoonist John Trever may be a bit of an understatement. But the Sunday cartoon (below) is particularly genius because of its multiple meanings about the way New Mexico politics and policies work.

  1. Private success vs. Public sector failure: While we have certainly criticized Bill Richardson’s decision to build a $200+ million Spaceport for Richard Branson, in the bigger picture both Bransons’ and Bezos’ successes are achievements for the private space industry. New Mexico’s schools are overwhelmingly government-run and funded. It would be nice if those who are rightly frustrated by the failures of this system would join us in focusing their efforts on bringing private sector competition and competence to bear on the difficult challenge of improving literacy in NM.
  2. A SECOND interpretation of the cartoon is yet another common theme of New Mexico government. Rather than doing the basics (like education) well, elected officials prefer to pursue expensive, high profile projects that really aren’t appropriate functions of government. The Spaceport is one such example, but Mayor Keller’s plans to build a new soccer stadium (with a starting price tag of at least $65-$70 million just to build, let alone property acquisition and inevitable cost-overruns) is another. Again, crime and public safety are crises demanding resources and attention, but Keller would rather build a stadium instead.
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Economy Health Care Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Las Cruces Sun-News column: New Mexico’s COVID-19 response failed on important metrics

This article appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on June 27, 2021. With COVID and the Gov.’s COVID policies at last receding, the race is on to determine how effective or ineffective our Gov.’s lockdown policies really were. Our analysis is below: