Categories
Education Local Government Notable News Public Comments and Testimony Top Issues

What RGF’s president told the APS School board about new COVID restrictions

As has been widely reported in the media, Albuquerque Public Schools on Wednesday, introduced a whole host of restrictions on various activities at their schools.

Here’s a list of the new rules:

  • Wearing properly fitted masks outdoors as well as indoors
  • Students facing one way in classrooms and the cafeteria
  • Keeping students in cohorts
  • No spectators at school events, including athletics, through Feb. 2
  • Prohibiting large group gatherings, including assemblies
  • Staggering transition times and recesses
  • Closing drinking fountains (though students can still fill water bottles)
  • Restricting locker use.

Needless to say, not only is the RGF not a fan of several of these measures (masking outdoors?) but at the VERY least we believe that the new APS Board should be making these policies, NOT the superintendent  or any unelected bureaucrat.

So, here are RGF president’s Paul Gessing’s comments:

I was very happy to see the changes made to the board in the last election and I hope you will act quickly to wrest control over the District away from the bureaucrats.

 

I am the parent of three children who, up until the end of the abbreviated 2019-2020 school year, attended Chaparral Elementary on Albuquerque’s west side. We pulled our children out of APS for the 2020-2021 “virtual” school year and home schooled them because we knew that they would receive a vastly inferior education. Numerous studies have proven us correct.

 

Now our three kids go to a charter school OR Catholic school because APS has been completely inept in managing COVID and balancing the learning and socialization needs of children with a virus that has minimal impacts on children and has for the past two years.

 

The new COVID protocols at APS, adopted (so far as I can tell) without a vote of the Board, are unfair, unnecessary, and unscientific. I urge the board to take a public vote to overturn them and I urge ALL board members to vote to do so. Furthermore, in addition to overturning the new, unnecessary protocols, I urge the NEW APS board to eliminate the unnecessary mask mandate on children in the classroom.

 

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Local Government Notable News Top Issues

Rio Grande Foundation appeals free speech case to the US Supreme Court

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute recently filed briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Rio Grande Foundation’s lawsuit against a Santa Fe ordinance that forces nonprofits to surrender their donors’ privacy rights whenever they support or oppose a ballot initiative. The case is just the latest in a series of cases in which donors to think tanks and nonprofits have been targeted by anti-privacy mandates nationwide.

The lawsuit began in 2017 when the Rio Grande Foundation announced its opposition to a proposal to impose a sales tax on sugared soft drinks in Santa Fe. The Foundation posted a video to its Facebook page—a video it didn’t make—that urged voters to oppose the initiative. That triggered a city ordinance that requires nonprofits that spend more than $250 supporting or opposing initiatives to turn over the names, addresses, and employment information of any donor who gave even a penny for that purpose. Even though the Foundation had not spent any money on the video, city bureaucrats decided that the video must have cost that much, and therefore that it qualified as an “in-kind donation.” It concluded that the Foundation was required to put its donors’ confidential information on a publicly accessible government list.

Goldwater took up Rio Grande’s case, filing suit to argue that stripping the Foundation’s supporters of their privacy in this way was likely to scare away donors—something lawyers call a “chilling effect” on free speech rights. And we proved at trial that when other, similar organizations, have been forced to turn over their private information, their employees and supporters have suffered intimidation and harassment. That’s not news—as the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta made clear, the risk of retaliation when people have their private information made public is a real one—and it does cause people to refrain from exercising their First Amendment rights.

But the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals threw the case out earlier this year, in a bizarre holding that said people cannot bring a “chilling effect” lawsuit unless they themselves choose not to exercise their freedom of speech. In other words, the court said that because the Rio Grande Foundation intends to speak out in the future, it’s not allowed to argue that the Santa Fe ordinance will likely scare donors into silence.

That makes no sense, because, as the Tenth Circuit itself has said in other cases, the fact that someone is willing to keep speaking despite risk of punishment doesn’t deprive that person of the right to challenge the constitutionality of punishment. For example, in a 2019 case—also from New Mexico—federal courts ruled that a professor who was retaliated against for speaking out about improprieties at her school could still sue even though she “show[ed] extraordinary persistence” and refused to be silenced.

Yet in Rio Grande’s case, the court created a new rule holding that “an element of a chilled speech injury is an actual intention not to speak,” meaning that only a person who is afraid to speak, but not afraid to sue, is allowed to bring a First Amendment lawsuit. That’s illogical—and likely to slam the courthouse doors to many people and organizations who should be allowed to defend their constitutional rights.

We urge the Supreme Court to take up this case and vindicate Rio Grande’s freedom of speech.

You can read our petition here and learn more about the case here.

Here’s the video that started it all.

 

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues Videos

RGF offers thoughts on United’s future stadium ambitions

While RGF is pleased by Albuquerque voters’ overwhelming rejection of the proposal to build a taxpayer-financed soccer stadium near downtown, we recognized all along that the Team was not going to give up their quest for a new stadium.

Channel 7 KOAT laid out some ideas including potential stadium locations on tribal lands. RGF expects that, given the massive surpluses available to the Legislature and Gov. Lujan Grisham, we could see significant state dollars used to fund a stadium even if Albuquerque voters have rejected the concept.

Categories
Economy Education Local Government Notable News Top Issues

A good night for reform-minded leadership nationwide/in New Mexico

If you’d like to listen to Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing discuss the 2021 election results (and numerous other issues later on), check out his recent interview with Jim Williams of KLYT 88.3FM on ABQ Connect. Paul is a regular guest on Jim’s show, but he has regular guests on a variety of local issues of interest.

In terms of local election results, it was obviously disappointing to see Mayor Keller who has done such a poor job managing public safety and the homelessness problem win so handily in Albuquerque. But, the taxpayer-financed United Stadium supported by Keller (and opposed by the Rio Grande Foundation) lost 2-1.

In terms of City Council, the West Side saw the ouster of two incumbents in favor of former Councilor Dan Lewis and newcomer Louis Sanchez.

Two other races are heading to a runoff with the requisite early voting and an “election day” of December 7. Those races include conservative leaning candidates Lori Robertson (District 7 in the mid-northeast heights) and Rene Grout (District 9 in the northeast/southeast heights).

APS school board also saw seats shift from union-backed candidates to more reform-minded candidates including Courtney Jackson, Crystal Tapia-Romero, and Danielle Gonzales .

Unfortunately the reform wave did not reach Las Cruces city council and the Foundation’s own Patrick Brenner lost in his bid for school board in Rio Rancho.

Nationally-speaking, Virginia’s governor’s race was won by Republican Glenn Youngkin in large part because of his pro-education reform, anti-CRT stances.

In New Jersey in what could have been an unprecedented upset, the Republican fell just-short.

Overall, it was a good night for conservatives and those that believe parents, not the unions and bureaucrats should control education.

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues Videos

On KOAT Channel 7 RGF Reacts to poll showing United Stadium lacks support

Early voting at the county clerks’ offices is taking place now. A new poll says that overwhelming majorities of Albuquerque voters are against the use of taxpayer dollars to finance the stadium.

While gratified by this news, we recognize that polls are often inaccurate and that the only poll that REALLY matters is the actual election. So, with this stadium and numerous other important issues on the ballot, be sure to GO VOTE (and bring a friend or family member)!

Check out the discussion Gessing recently had with KOAT Channel 7 here.

 

Categories
Education Local Government Notable News Open Government Top Issues Videos

Talking APS property tax with KOAT Channel 7

As discussed in a recent blog post here there is an Albuquerque Public Schools property tax issue on voters’ ballots this November. As seen below the ballot language certainly seems to indicate a property tax increase, but in this story for which RGF talked to KOAT Channel 7, APS claims it is NOT a tax hike.

We looked extensively on the APS website and found nothing, nor does the full ballot text on our sample ballot (find yours here) have any clues.

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues Videos

United releases TV ad on stadium: understanding bonds and taxes

In their quest for a new soccer stadium, the New Mexico United have released a new TV ad. We haven’t seen the ad on local TV yet, but you can see it for yourself in this KOAT 7 story. RGF president Paul Gessing adds a bit of balance to the story near the end.

Aside from the usual claims about “jobs” and civic pride the ad relies heavily on the idea that the ballot measure is a “bond” that doesn’t raise taxes. Of course, that is akin to saying that a family should put all of its spending on a credit card because they aren’t actually spending anything right away.

Bonds require taxes in order to be paid off. In this case it is going to require gross receipts tax revenues. And, other priorities like law enforcement and roads will receive fewer dollars than they otherwise would. Finally, of course, taxes COULD go down in the absent of the stadium.

 

 

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues Videos

RGF President reacts to United pledge of financial support for new stadium on KOAT Channel 7

With Albuquerque voters largely skeptical of the proposed taxpayer-funded United Soccer Stadium, the team has decided to pledge $10 million towards the facility. 

RGF’s president Paul Gessing weighs in on this development in this story. Gessing’s comment for this story is limited to saying that the team should fund “a majority” of the stadium that will cost at least $70 million and will likely cost up to $100 million based on numerous unknown factors including construction materials and the unknown location of the proposed stadium.

Needless to say $10 million is nowhere near half of the stadium’s cost.

Of course, there remain so many unknowns surrounding this project including the actual site. The Foundation has previously discussed numerous additional issues with the proposed facility. 

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues Videos

RGF talks United Stadium finances on KOAT 7

RGF’s Paul Gessing recently sat down with KOAT TV Channel 7 to discuss financial details for the proposed New Mexico United Soccer stadium. There are more questions than answers at this point in the discussion which is unfortunate given that voters probably won’t have much more information than what is currently known when they go to the polls in November.

The time duration of the bond is ONE question discussed in the story, but the location of the stadium, final cost of the project, and source of money for the difference between the $50 million bond  and the final cost which will be no less than $70 million and perhaps much more are unknown.

In this story Councilor Davis asserts that the “gap” between the $50 million bond and the final cost of the stadium could be somehow filled by leveraging lease payments from the team. Of course no lease payment mechanism has been agreed to at this point, so these are purely speculative statements by Davis both on the payments themselves as well as what, if anything, those could pay for.

Click here for a link to the story.

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Keller using shiny stadium to distract from rampant crime

This article first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on August 10th, 2021.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has decided that, despite rampant crime and a homeless problem that has grown dramatically worse on his watch, building a new soccer stadium for New Mexico United should be a top city priority. The stadium itself, to be located somewhere in the vicinity of Downtown, will cost taxpayers in excess of $70 million. That doesn’t include land acquisition, parking or inevitable cost overruns.

If the City Council approves the deal, Albuquerque voters will vote on whether to finance the project this November. It is difficult to see how financing a new soccer stadium is anywhere near the top of the city’s agenda. Albuquerque is a city with serious problems.

Recently the Journal reported on rampant crime along East Central. Of course, crime and homelessness are rampant along Central, Downtown and in many parts of our city. It would be far easier to name the few places in Albuquerque where there is not a significant crime and homeless problem than to name all the places that have issues.

In a recent report WalletHub identifies the city of Albuquerque as having the fourth-highest increase in homicides per capita in the nation (2020 vs 2021). Combined with Albuquerque’s already high crime levels before the pandemic, public safety would top most lists for local needs.

Notably, the Albuquerque Police Department budget has not changed substantially in recent years. By no means am I suggesting more dollars always result in better outcomes, but the perceived lack of prioritization on public safety implicates Mayor Keller’s belief that crime is not as important as building a stadium. Or, perhaps, as he heads into his reelection campaign, he is trying to change the subject from crime to stadium.

And then there is the Downtown location. State and local governments have spent decades trying to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque with little success. With safety and homeless problems only getting worse and Downtown businesses still not recovered from the one-two punches of COVID-19 lockdowns and protests, this is a particularly risky time to invest taxpayer dollars in a Downtown stadium.

On the other hand, New Mexicans, not just locals, have flocked to The Pit, Isotopes Park and UNM Stadium for decades. These facilities are all located in the same area of town, have abundant parking shared among the various facilities and little in the way of crime or homeless issues. United does extremely well in attendance at Isotopes Park, allowing the team to vault to the top of attendance rankings in the USL.

It seems Keller is a believer in “Mad Men’s” Don Draper school of thought: If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. He has failed in the basic government task of public safety and keeping the city clean, so now he’s distracting voters with a shiny new stadium.

In the end, economists across the political spectrum agree that taxpayer-funded stadiums are economic-losers.

To that end, the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s May 2017 report “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums” concluded, “Rather than subsidizing sports stadiums, governments could finance other projects such as infrastructure or education that have the potential to increase productivity and promote economic growth.”

I urge the City Council and ultimately the voters to heed their advice.

Rio Grande Foundation is New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, the author leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.