Categories
Education Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Basic facts as legislative session gets rolling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Issues Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Initial wave of Worst Senate Bills to watch in 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues Videos

Paul talks to KOB TV about drawbacks of a closed New Mexico legislative session

Populists on both sides of the political aisle may believe that not having lobbyists in the Roundhouse for the 2021 Legislative session will be a good thing. RGF’s Paul Gessing sat down with KOB TV to discuss why the lack of lobbyists (both citizens AND professionals) and the information they provide could result in “half-baked” legislation.

Populists on both sides of the political aisle may believe that not having lobbyists in the Roundhouse for the 2021 Legislative session will be a good thing. RGF’s Paul Gessing sat down with KOB TV to discuss why the lack of lobbyists (both citizens AND professionals) and the information they provide could result in “half-baked” legislation.

Click below to watch the full KOB story:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico-news/lobbyists-barred-from-roundhouse-during-legislative-session/5979384/?cat=504

Categories
Economy Energy and Environment Film Subsidies Health Care Legislature Local Government Notable News Oil & Gas Open Government RailRunner Top Issues Videos

RGF’s Paul Gessing talks New Mexico politics and policy w/ Mick Rich

The following conversation between RGF president Paul Gessing and Mick Rich (former US Senate candidate and owner of a construction business) aired on local television in Albuquerque, NM recently. It is split into four segments of about 10 minutes apiece.

In the first segment Mick and Paul discuss health care reforms made under ObamaCare, why it has failed, and how Biden plans to move forward with the same government-driven philosophy.

In segment two we discuss the evolution and economics of New Mexico’s film industry and its oil and gas industry.

In the third segment we discuss some of the crime issues at play in the City of Albuquerque.

In this segment we discuss the upcoming 2021 legislative session, the Rail Runner, Spaceport, and five things the Legislature SHOULD do to bring prosperity to our state.

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

RGF’s Paul Gessing discusses State contact tracing contract w/ company being sued in Texas

The Lujan Grisham Administration has contracted with a company that has been involved in a lawsuit for not fulfilling its end of a contract with the State of Texas. Click on the story below to watch:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico-news/software-company-used-for-contract-tracing-in-nm-involved-in-lawsuit-in-texas/5889727/

Categories
Economy Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

New Mexicans opt out of forced unionism

The following appeared on the Las Cruces Sun News website on August 15, 2020.

Las Cruces Sun-News Obituaries - Las Cruces, NM | Las Cruces Sun-News

With New Mexico still in the throes of COVID19 it is easy to forget about other major public policy issues affecting the State and its economy.

Just over two years ago, in the Janus v. AFSCME decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that working for state or local government should not come with a requirement that those employees hand over a portion of their hard-earned money to unions with whom they often disagree. In the time since the decision, many government workers in New Mexico have exercised these rights by leaving their unions in droves.

In a series of public records requests, the Rio Grande Foundation has found that that more than half of state employees – 54% – have left their union. Our survey of schools, cities and counties around New Mexico show that thousands of other public workers have decided to leave their unions as well.

In working with the national advocacy effort My Pay, My Say, which is working across a large number of states (nearly half of states saw public employees receive the freedom to opt-out), New Mexico’s drop among state employees is the largest we have seen.

Our campaign telling New Mexicans about their first amendment right to leave their unions has reached tens of thousands of public employees all across the state with thousands of them engaging with the advertising and many ultimately choosing to stop paying dues.

The Rio Grande Foundation has long supported worker freedom in New Mexico. We share President Franklin Roosevelt’s contention that, “the process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted into the public service.” And we were thrilled when the court upheld the First Amendment rights for workers to choose – or choose not – to belong to labor unions.

Public sector bargaining is problematic. Unlike in the private sector, taxpayers are ultimately subsidizing both sides of the bargaining table – the government employer and the government union.

Recently, many on the left have come to realize these issues as well – at least when it comes to police unions. Many of the protections given to unionized police officers are not in the best interests of accountable policing and equitable criminal justice policies. We welcome them to the newfound realization that government employee unions often stand in the way of holding “public servants” accountable for their actions.

But this new skepticism of unions – over their political advocacy and problematic contracts – should apply across all areas of government, including at the state, local and in K-12 education. In fact, problems with government employee unions in the education bureaucracy, like unionized law enforcement bureaucracies, have disproportionate, negative impacts on poor and minority populations.

Allowing government employees to opt out of their unions is a good step towards holding unions accountable. It forces them to be more accountable to those they “represent” and it takes away one of the special favors typically granted to unions by state and local government.

Once Janus v. AFSCME gave workers the choice, large numbers of them decided that unions didn’t do a good job representing their interests. Some opt out for broader political reasons; others simply don’t feel the dues are worth it and still more are perhaps concerned by the lack of accountability in government that has been driven by the unions for decades. Whatever the reason, we’ll continue making sure government employees know their rights.

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

Categories
Economy Notable News Open Government Top Issues Uncategorized Videos

Brief RGF explainer video shows how much of NM has been minimally-impacted by COVID 19

We at the Rio Grande Foundation have found the New York Times’ website tracking COVID 19 to be very useful in better understanding the important data surrounding the Virus and the State of New Mexico’s response to it.

Watch this short, 3 minute video and you too will better understand the situation.

Categories
Constitution and Criminal Justice Economy Education Energy and Environment Film Subsidies Legislature Notable News Oil & Gas Open Government Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Understanding the Rio Grande Foundation

The Rio Grande Foundation often comes under criticism from the left. But sometimes we come under fire from the right as well.

For starters we are designated as 501c3 “education and research” think tank. We don’t make endorsements and we don’t “carry water” for any political party or politician. Various media outlets have called us libertarian, conservative, and free market. We call ourselves “free market,” but we don’t waste our breath and time arguing the finer points of ideology because we believe that our work is self-explanatory.

For starters, New Mexico is a deeply challenged state. We believe that a vast majority of these issues are self-inflicted. New Mexico lacks economic freedom and remains poorer and less well educated than our neighbors. We also spend a VAST majority of our time focused on state and local issues as opposed to federal ones.

Those issues broadly include:

  1. Size of Government: New Mexico has long been a state driven by government. Data show that state/local spending is too high and that government regulations make doing business in New Mexico less attractive than doing business elsewhere. We’ve worked on this issue from all angles including: all forms of taxation, subsidies and corporate welfare (notably film subsidies), but also LEDA, JTIP, and “green” subsidies.
  2. Regulation: Rio Grande Foundation has led the charge for “right to work” repeal of NM’s”Davis-Bacon” law, reform of government employee pensions, and against numerous “nanny state” regulations like plastic bag bans. We have also done extensive work against “green” programs from the Energy Transition Act to costly “green” building codes.
  3.   School Choice/Education Reform: Across the political spectrum New Mexicans agree that our K-12 system is failing. While politicians of both parties typically opt for some combination of more money, more time in school (pre-K), and some form of top-down accountability, the Rio Grande Foundation believes that parents and (to an extent students themselves) are better able to decide on the educational options that appeal to them. Charter schools are a good start and should be expanded, but more options are needed.

Additionally, the Rio Grande Foundation supports the US and New Mexico Constitutions, we stand up for free speech, gun rights, private property, and open government.

We don’t take on immigration, gay rights, or abortion issues.

So, there you have it. We at the Rio Grande Foundation have our plates very full, but we are making a difference in New Mexico every day. If that appeals to you, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today!