The Rio Grande Foundation’s vote tracking tool, the Freedom Index, has been available all throughout the 2020 legislative session with bills ranked and legislators’ votes scored in what amounts to “real time.”
At the Rio Grande Foundation website you can access bill rankings and votes going back to the 2015 session. Click the logo below to find out who your legislators are (if you don’t know already) and for the 2020 Index and votes.
Bills are rated anywhere from -8 (worst bills) to +8 (for the very best). Some of the most important bills that made it to the floor of at least one house of the Legislature for a vote and their respective ratings and a short description are found below:
SB 5; -7 (worst of the session): Red Flag Bill infringes on gun rights, due process, and creates new opportunities for costly lawsuits against local governments;
HB 364; -6 Public Employee Give away
HB 83; -6 Creates new $320 million fund for early childhood
HJR 1; -5 Taps the Land Grant Permanent Fund for pre-K and early childhood programs
SB 98; -4 Changes New Mexico’s Davis Bacon (prevailing wage) law to provide costly new fines and penalties for businesses working on public works projects
Best Bills Passed
SB 72; +6 Makes changes to PERA pension system to bring it closer to full funding.
When Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the formation of two tax advisory committees in the fall, she said they would “study the state’s tax system and recommend changes to ensure fairness, efficiency and equity.” Legislation to create an electric vehicle (EV) tax credit (such as Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 217), however, will have the opposite effect and make New Mexico’s tax code less efficient and more unbalanced.
If passed, the legislation would create a $2,500 tax credit for the purchase or lease of an electric vehicle, and another $300 giveaway for an at-home charger. This initiative, like similar policies at the national level, will function as a special interest carve-out for wealthy residents living in urban areas and only further alienate rural parts of the state.
Electric vehicle subsidies will benefit wealthier residents. Congressional Research Service data shows that nearly 80 percent of the federal EV tax credits are claimed by people who make over $100,000 per year. Both bills attempt to prevent the disparity in New Mexico by offering a higher credit for lower income buyers, but with an average price of $55,600, most electric vehicles would still be out of reach for many in our state where 400,000 receive federal food assistance.
In addition to tipping the scales toward high earners who can afford to buy cars without a tax credit, EV tax credit legislation also favors New Mexicans in urban areas. Of the 53 public charging stations in New Mexico, 39 are in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area. The remaining 14 are scattered throughout our massive state, putting residents of the majority of New Mexico at a disadvantage. Designating more money for public charging and issuing $300 for home-charging investments aims to correct the problem, but it’s a solution that won’t work for a lot of people.
Beyond that, electric vehicles are also an impractical choice for thousands of farmers and ranchers who rely on their pickups to haul livestock and equipment, often in extreme temperatures. Many others rely on their vehicles to do jobs that electric vehicles simply aren’t cut out to do.
According to a just-released study by the non-profit Road Improvement Program, a nonprofit research organization, “more than half of major locally and state-maintained roads are in poor or mediocre condition,” which is costing us as much as $2,114 per driver.
Electric vehicle ownership only exacerbates the problem, because unlike other cars, EVs do not pay into our state’s road repair fund or the federal Highway Trust Fund, even though they contribute to wear and tear on our roads. Both EV tax credit bills would impose an annual registration fee on electric vehicles, but that falls far short of the $500 a typical New Mexico family pays in federal and state gas taxes each year.
Even without the subsidy, New Mexicans around the state are already subsidizing wealthier electric vehicle owners in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. If EV tax credit legislation passes and succeeds in its goal of putting more electric vehicles on the road, it will further tip the scales way from rural communities.
Coming on the heels of a 33-percent increase in New Mexico’s vehicle sales tax — which was supposed to fund road projects — it’s counter-productive to now consider providing tax refunds to the few people who can afford electric cars and to charge them less for infrastructure upkeep.
Electric vehicles have struggled to take off in New Mexico for reasons unrelated to federal or state subsidies. Fewer than 1,000 electric vehicles were sold in our state in each of the last two years, even with a federal incentive of up to $7,500. Adding a $2,500 rebate isn’t going to make our state more electric. Our policymakers have already hinted that they may follow in California’s footsteps and mandate that a minimum percentage of all state vehicle sales need to be electric. An electric vehicle tax credit is an ineffective and unfair precursor to that sort of extreme policy making.
The following appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on February 12, 2020.
A study released recently by the consulting firm Moss Adams made headlines with the rather implausible claim that Spaceport America began producing net economic and fiscal benefits for New Mexico as early as 2013. Since its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, has yet to launch a single manned space tourism flight, the Rio Grande Foundation undertook a detailed critique of these claims, relying on the audited financial statements from the Spaceport Authority and Capital Spending Records.
Using these publicly-available data along with information from the Moss Adams report which were not previously available (such as estimates of Virgin Galactic’s spending on employee relocation), we estimate the Spaceport project has cost taxpayers roughly $275 million while generating just $54.3 million in income over the last 12 years. The Spaceport’s audited financial statements do not list any revenue other than taxes and transfers from the State government before 2015, making the 2013 breakeven date presented to the media especially egregious.
Only some very creative accounting can turn a $221 million dollar loss into a net profit, but no one has ever faulted paid proponents of more government spending for a lack of creativity. The report seems timed to gather support for a significant hike in tax dollars appropriated for the Spaceport. Notably, the most “pessimistic’ scenario imaginable in the Moss Adams scenario analysis projects “only” $81.25 million of additional financing. Runway extensions, hangars, and other infrastructure have been added on to the facility over the years and (as we learn from the Moss Adams report) there are millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects to come at the facility.
One of the biggest problems with the Moss Adams report is it considers the $100 million collected and spent by various Southern New Mexico counties as a positive in the overall return on the facility. It is true that construction companies were hired and projects were undertaken at the facility with that $100 million, but what about the $100 million in foregone economic activity on the part of taxpayers and businesses who saw their gross receipts tax burdens go up in order to fund the Spaceport?
This report, like so many other “economic impact studies,” relies on a controversial tool known as “input-output modelling,” a favorite for lobbyists and consulting groups eager to show credulous politicians that $100 million for a new sports stadium will create an economic renaissance in the area. These models take in more sober revenue calculations, and multiply them by arbitrarily determined “multipliers,” which inflates the benefits based on little more than faith and fancy math.
So-called economic “multipliers” are problematic under the best of circumstances, but one of their worst problems is when their impact is calculated only after the money is taxed away by the government. Ignoring the economic impact of allowing people to keep their own money not only stretches logic, but such mental gymnastics could be used to make any government program look like a winner for the economy.
At this point, we at the Rio Grande Foundation are not calling for the State of New Mexico to sell this facility as we have in the past. In fact, like most New Mexicans we also hope for a successful manned flight out of Spaceport America in the near future.
But, to call the facility a financial success before the primary purpose for which it was constructed rings false on its face. And, to use this as a talking point to request even greater access to taxpayer funding in the near future is to base important economic policy decisions on faulty information. We in New Mexico should know better than most that new government spending programs are not the ticket to prosperity. After a decade of broken promises, it’s well past time companies like Virgin Galactic stopped asking taxpayers to pick up their tab.
Seymour is a policy analyst with New Mexico’s free market think tank, Rio Grande Foundation
This testimony was given before the House Consumer & Public Affairs in the New Mexico Legislature on February 4, 2020. The bill which was sponsored by Rep. Rod Montoya (R-San Juan County) was unsurprisingly tabled (killed) on a party line vote
What should the Legislature do with the ongoing oil surplus? That is arguably the single most important question to be asked in the 2020 legislative session.
In New Mexico the tendency of the Legislature has been to spend the money. Some of it goes to various permanent and “rainy day” funds, but when considered relative to its neighbors, New Mexico government spends far more per person than its neighbors. Colorado in particular is a neighboring “blue” state that spends much less than we do here in New Mexico. In FY 2019, before the oil and gas boom really got rolling, New Mexico state and local governments combined to spend 23% of personal income while Colorado spent just 15%.
Not coincidentally, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average per-capita personal income in Colorado is $58,500 while the average income is New Mexico is $41,600. Colorado has achieved this success in large part by strictly limiting government spending growth since 1992. That state’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights limits annual spending growth to the combined rate of inflation and population growth. Voters have the final say on all government spending above that limit or any tax hike.
HJR 5 is a New Mexico version of Colorado’s tax and spending limit. It is more lenient in that it limits state spending to a combined rate of the percent increase in population growth + 3.6%. Furthermore it imposes a 3/5ths legislative majority requirement for the Legislature to keep revenues above that amount or raise taxes. Finally, surplus revenues above the limit would be split 50/50 between rebates to average New Mexicans and public education.
Based on calculations from the Rio Grande Foundation, if Rep. Montoya’s bill had been in place upon the departure of Gov. Susana Martinez in 2018, the citizens of our State and the public education system would have split over $1 billion in rebates or approximately $260 for each man/woman/child from the State over the past two years. That’s $260 returned to the hard-working citizens and taxpayers of New Mexico to invest for their own futures or put a down payment on everything from a new business venture to a new car.
Of course, the education system would be in line to see additional funding to the tune of at least $500 million as well.
Whether you support marijuana legalization as I do and the Rio Grande Foundation does (or not), it is Colorado’s limits on government spending that set it apart from New Mexico economically.
Finally, when it comes to raising taxes and spending increases, this Amendment’s 3/5ths requirement is extremely important. We shouldn’t have bare majority votes on whether to take more money out of hard-working New Mexicans’ pockets. Oklahoma, another faster-growing neighbor of ours, has a 3/4ths (75%) requirement for the passage of tax hikes. The requirement in this amendment would be 3/5ths of 60% of the Legislature.
This is not a retroactive bill. New Mexico government spending is likely to increase significantly this session although at a somewhat lower rate than last year. But, if the oil boom continues or economic growth continues to at its current pace, we believe that average New Mexicans should be direct participants and beneficiaries in it. We are our own unique state with its own unique needs, but limiting government spending will do great things for New Mexico as it has done for Colorado.
Over the last few weeks leading up to the 2020 legislative session, an all too rare alignment has occurred in New Mexico—the Governor, legislators from both parties, labor and taxpayer representatives, plan managers and other stakeholders in Santa Fe all agree that it is time to reform the state’s largest public pension system.
New Mexico’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) has amassed over $6 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and has become vulnerable to volatile investment markets. The Governor’s PERA Solvency Task Force recognized the growing unfunded liability problem and acknowledged the need to fully pay for state promises by making PERA a fully funded system within 25 years a top priority. The resulting task force recommendations mainly increase contributions and address a broken cost-of-living-adjustment policy that served more as annual pension bonuses than it did a protection against inflation.
The proposed reforms are a great first step towards addressing the debt currently looming over the state budget. However, there remains more work to do, as the current legislation would do little to address the systemic assumptions and policies that led to debt accumulating in the first place, mainly a lack of protections against market volatility, overly optimistic actuarial assumptions, and letting the political process—not actuarial math—determine annual pension contribution rates.
Consider that while passing the proposed legislation would generate a one-time reduction in unfunded liabilities by an estimated $700 million, in fiscal year 2019 alone the unfunded liability increased by $600 million due mostly to underperforming investments and insufficient contributions.
While the legislature continues to reject plan actuary recommendations and rely on bureaucratic statutes to determine its contribution to PERA, assets will continue to depend on high market returns to make up for subtle dips and losses. The debt is also still likely to grow due to PERA maintaining market assumptions that even PERA forecast only give a 60% chance of coming to fruition. Some more long-term market forecast view PERA’s chances at less than 50/50.
If there’s a future where market returns may not be as rosy in the past, we need to plan for it now by saving more and adopting more conservative assumptions. Otherwise, PERA will continue to accrue unfunded liabilities to be borne by tomorrow’s taxpayers and public employees since both are ultimately responsible for making the contributions needed to ensure that accrued benefits are fully paid to retirees. If contributions are not increased today, even higher increases will be required tomorrow.
It’s no wonder why public employers are struggling to attract top talent away from the private sector. New Mexico promises retirement benefits at the end of a full career then neglects to fund those benefits at adequate levels to where unfunded liabilities grow. This trend can produce rising debt payments and stagnant wages as limited state budget resources are reallocated to meet immediate needs.
The proposed reform aims to prevent that dynamic from persisting, or at least start the process. As important of a first step towards shoring up PERA’s long-term solvency the proposal is, to avoid growing state pension debt in the future will require both PERA and Educational Retirement Board (ERB) stakeholders to work towards adopting more conservative actuarial assumptions, pay down pension debt faster, and create attractive retirement plans for what is likely to be an increasingly professionally-mobile future workforce.
Reforming a broken cost-of-living-adjustment and increasing contributions are great ways to begin addressing the PERA unfunded liability. The legislature can also harness this rare bi-partisan cooperation to strengthen the task force recommendations by also addressing the systemic risk associated with high investment expectations and statutory contribution policies that will continue to generate unfunded liability unless reformed. The Governor, legislative leaders and numerous stakeholders are all right, the time to reform PERA is now.
Gessing is president of New Mexico’s free market think tank, Rio Grande Foundation and Gilroy is vice president for government reform at Reason Foundation, a think tank focusing on free minds and free markets
In the wake of 2019’s disastrous legislative session, 2020’s 30-day session has the potential to be a return to sanity. But, as this KOAT Channel 7 story notes, Gov. Lujan Grisham has outlined an ambitious agenda. The Foundation was given an opportunity to respond to various aspects of the Gov.’s program for the news story.
There are some elements of agreement (like pension reform), but overall the Foundation has big concerns about the amount of spending she is proposing as well as the prospects for “free college” and using marijuana legalization as a cash cow. Check out the full story by clicking here or the picture below:
The following appeared in the Ruidoso News on January 14, 2020.
Gov. Lujan Grisham recently released her budget to be considered by the Legislature in the upcoming 30 day session. As expected, there is a lot of new spending thanks to the continued growth of oil and gas production in the Permian Basin.
After a 12 percent boost in General Fund spending last year, the Gov. is requesting yet another big increase. This year she’s asking for 8.4 percent.
According to news reports, the nearly $7.7 billion spending plan includes a proposed 4% salary increase for New Mexico teachers and more money for school districts with a large number of “at risk” students.”
The budget would provide for “free” college and expand funding for child-care assistance and pre-Kindergarten programs statewide. “Another $320 million would be spent to set up a new early childhood endowment fund.”
All of this spending seems destined to please, but New Mexico is a poor state. Many of its social ills are the result of poverty. We at the Rio Grande Foundation believe that the best anti-poverty program is a job.
That’s why when it comes to government spending we look at Colorado as a model. That State which continues to see strong growth (albeit minus the “boom” in oil and gas) is giving taxpayers a break in 2020. As reported by Fox 31 Denver, Colorado’s income tax rate will be dropping from 4.63% to 4.5% this year (thanks to that State’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights which was recently affirmed at the ballot box).
With the passage of HB 6 last year in New Mexico, our top income tax rate will soon rise to 5.9 percent while Colorado’s drops to 4.5 percent. This may not seem to be a big difference but it is one of the big reasons that Colorado is one of the fastest growing states in the entire country.
In fact, over the last decade, according to Census data released at the end of 2019, Colorado was the 3rd-fastest growing state in terms of population at 12.7 percent. Only Utah and Texas which also neighbor New Mexico grew faster. And where did New Mexico rank in population growth between 2010 and 2019? The answer is 38th-fastest at 1.8 percent, a bit faster than Ohio, but not quite as fast as Kansas.
Colorado and New Mexico both have little in the way of rivers and surface water, they have good weather although New Mexico’s is much better, and New Mexico is in the midst of an unprecedented oil and gas boom. They also both happen to be “blue” states.
Colorado’s “secret sauce” is that it strictly limits spending growth and taxation. As a percentage of GDP (the overall state economy) Colorado state and local governments spend 14.8 percent. New Mexico spends 23.39 percent. Of the states surrounding New Mexico, “blue” Colorado has the smallest government while New Mexico has by far the largest.
What does this mean? Simply put it means that the tax hikes (HB 6) passed last year were totally uncalled for and unnecessary. It means that in the upcoming 30 day session, we the voters of New Mexico need to hold the Legislature accountable. Rather than growing the government even more, we need real reforms to the State’s broken and regressive gross receipts tax. We need to eliminate taxation of Social Security. And finally, the Legislature simply needs to stop the accumulation of new government spending programs that may not survive the next economic downturn or the next decline in oil and gas prices.
Colorado’s is not the only economic model worth following. People are moving in large numbers to Utah and Texas (the fastest and 2nd fastest growing states) as well as Arizona (the 7th). New Mexico can learn lessons from each of them, but the simple truth is that new government spending is not the way to make New Mexico (or any other state) more economically attractive.
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
The 2020 session is “only” 30 days long, but as we saw in 2019,a lot of damage can be done in a relatively short time. Considering the “progressive” makeup of the Legislature, there are issues (like Right to Work and Davis/Bacon reform) that simply will not be put forth, but there are plenty of opportunities for bi-partisan economic reform in 2020. We’ll be working to make them happen while also recognizing that there are plenty of bad ideas that could be adopted in 2020.
Below is a list of some of the top issues that RGF will be working on in 2020. Further data and background is available at the links:
1)GRT Reform:The gist of what may happen is for business to business contractors to have most taxes eliminated. This is especially important for service contractors (everything from bookkeepers to lawyers). Tax rates (which have risen dramatically in recent years) would also be reduced slightly.
2)Pension reform:New Mexico has two public employee pension systems: Education Retirement Board (ERB) and Public Employee Retirement Administration (PERA). Both are tremendously underfunded and in need of reform. Earlier this year Gov. Lujan Grisham named a task force to address PERA’s solvency by eliminating over $6 billion in unfunded liabilities over the next 25 years. The changes are significant and positive steps for PERA, but still leave some systemic challenges—namely actuarial methods and assumptions—unaddressed. We will push for further reform while acknowledging that doing something is better than doing nothing.
3)Calling “free” college into question:There so many issues with this concept including New Mexico’s “inadequate” K-12 system, the relative lack of jobs, and the likelihood of price inflation. This proposal has many problems.
5)Returning surplus money back to New Mexicans:Colorado (a “blue” state like New Mexico) is an economic juggernaut. The key to Colorado’s success is its Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) which strictly limits government spending and taxation. Colorado just reduced its income tax due to savings from TABOR while New Mexico is likely to spend its surplus. New Mexico politicians should consider returning a significant portion of the oil and gas surplus to the taxpayers.
6) Occupational licensing reform:SB 385was a bipartisan effort to address occupational licensing problems for those convicted of certain crimes in New Mexico. It was vetoed by the Governor in 2019 after passing both houses. We will continue to support this and other needed (and broader) reforms to New Mexico’s occupational licensing laws in 2020.
The following appeared in the Current-Argus on December 11, 2019.
According to the latest estimates from Santa Fe the state’s general fund budget is expected to be $7.882 billion next fiscal year. When Gov. Martinez left office in 2018 the budget was “only” $6.3 billion. In two short years, New Mexico’s budget will have grown by more than $1.5 billion, a 25 percent increase.
With the current group in charge New Mexico government is going to grow fat on oil and gas revenues while average New Mexicans pay higher taxes due to hikes passed during 2019.
There’s a better way to use the surplus and we don’t have to look far to find it. Policymakers should visit Denver to see how fiscal restraint in “blue” Colorado has created that state’s booming economy. In 1992, Colorado voters approved a Constitutional amendment restricting taxes and spending at all levels of government (state, local, and schools). Under this law, taxes cannot be raised without voter approval and if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth, the extra money must be returned to the taxpayers.
Last month Colorado voters once again affirmed that they want surplus revenues returned to them. By a rather overwhelming vote of 56-44, voters rejected a ballot measure pushed by the state’s political establishment that would have eliminated those tax refunds. Despite being a “blue” state, Coloradoans want to control government spending and they like their refunds.
If New Mexico had the same law (known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights or TABOR) that Colorado has, it could change New Mexico’s economy for the better in short order. Rather than being spent by the worst-run government in the nation (according to 24/7 Wall Street) much of that $1.5 billion surplus would be returned to the people of New Mexico instead of growing its government. In fact, accounting for New Mexico’s slow population growth and the inflation rate (in essence giving government the same money in real terms as it had before the oil boom really started), you get just under $1.45 billion available to return to New Mexicans. If that money were divided by giving all New Mexicans (just under 2.1 million of us) an even share, that would mean a refund of $731.90 per person.
We can all fantasize about what we’d do with an extra $730 lying around, especially during the holidays. More importantly, Colorado which is like New Mexico in many ways (dependent on natural resources, land-locked with few navigable rivers, but with stunning natural scenery) is an economic dynamo while New Mexico lags. Yes, the ongoing oil boom has given New Mexico a boost, but our economy trails badly behind Colorado.
For example, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average New Mexican earned $41,609 in 2018 while that same year the average Coloradoan earned $58,456. In other words, the average Coloradoan makes $17,000 a year more than the average New Mexican!
People notice these differences and vote with their feet. According to data from the Pew Center on the States, between 2008 and 2018 New Mexico’s population grew by 0.41%, the slowest rate of any state west of Kansas annually. Colorado, the third-fastest growing state in the nation, grew by 1.54% annually. And of course, like interest, that number compounds annually.
Colorado’s strict limit on government spending is not the only difference between the two states. But it is rare for neighboring states to differ so starkly when it comes to overall economic conditions and population growth.
By limiting government growth Colorado has unlocked its human potential and made itself a desirable destination. New Mexico has vast untapped potential, perhaps more than any other state in the union. We may never get the kind of constitutional limits on spending that Colorado has, but if New Mexicans demand just a bit more of this surplus be returned to themselves as opposed to being gobbled up by government, perhaps we’d begin to unlock it.
Paul Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation.