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Constitution and Criminal Justice Economy Notable News Open Government Top Issues Videos

Media uses RGF information to ask MLG health advisor tough questions on “the science”

The Rio Grande Foundation recently gained access to the transcript of a deposition on the Gov.’s decision making process relating to COVID 19 and found “the science” to be lacking. Channel 4 KOB TV’s Patrick Hayes used this information to ask the Gov.’s health advisor David Scrase some questions during the press conference this week. As you can see from the story, Scrase doesn’t exactly answer the question about “the science.”

You can see the full story below:

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Economy Education Health Care Notable News Open Government Top Issues

Is New Mexico REALLY “Following the Science” on COVID?

Recently (on February 29, 2021), Tracie Collins, M.D., New Mexico Secretary of Health was deposed in a case in US brought by various businesses that have opposed the Gov.’s lockdown policies relating to COVID 19.

The Deposition was videotaped, so we can provide broadcast news outlets (or even just YouTube and similar platforms) with clips. Here is the full transcript of Collins’ deposition.

Key Take-aways:

  1. The Department of Health does not consider the economic impact of lockdowns in crafting its Public Health Orders.
  2. The Department of Health does not adjust “positive COVID test” results to account for false positive tests.
  3. The Department of Health cannot explain why Florida and Texas, which are not locked down, have lower COVID fatality rates than New Mexico. The experiences of other states are not considered by the Secretary or the New Mexico Department of Health in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  4. The Department of Health does not take into consideration other adverse health impacts, like increased depression, suicide, and childhood obesity in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  5. The Secretary places significant reliance on the Department of Health’s legal staff when crafting the Public Health Orders. She does not know if any of the Department’s lawyers have any training or education in public health.
  6. The Secretary is unaware of any scientific studies that support the specific restrictions, prohibitions, and permitted activities under the Public Health Orders.
  7. The Secretary cannot say whether the risk from COVID must be zero, before the Public Health Orders will end.

Below are Page and Line references to deposition testimony:

Data and Experience from other States “can” be considered in crafting New Mexico’s Public Health Orders, but Secretary Collins will not say that it “should” be considered.  See, page 11, line 2 to line 14 (“11:2 – 14”)

The Department of Health has minimized economic harm from the shutdowns by reducing morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and keeping people alive so that they will have an opportunity at some time in the future to reopen their business.  See page 32, line 24 to page 34, line 5 (“32:24 – 34:5”)

The Department does not track or control for false positive tests, or make adjustments to their numbers based on the presence of false positive tests.  34:11 – 37:17; and 37:21 – 41:11

The Secretary cannot explain why Florida and South Dakota, which are not locked down, have a lower COVID-related fatality rate than New Mexico.  Nor is she interested in using such data to determine whether lockdowns work.  48:3 – 53:19

The Secretary does not know why New Mexico has not done a regression analysis to determine whether the shutdown orders have had a positive impact on COVID transmission rates.  54:2 – 56:2

The Secretary is not aware of New Mexico attempting any other analysis of the adverse economic impact of the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the State has done anything to consider the economic cost and damage caused by the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the economic costs and damages arising from the shutdown orders is significant.  57:15 – 58:22; and 100:15 – 20

The Secretary does not know what adverse health consequences have arisen as a result of having to close business and losing jobs.  The Secretary has done no study regarding the adverse health consequences caused by lockdowns (increased depression, suicide, childhood obestity, etc.).   58:23 – 63:3

The Secretary is not aware of any studies that the business activities that are permitted under the Public Health Orders are less risky than the business activities that have been prohibited.  63:4 – 64:7

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s general counsel (i.e., its lawyers) to understand why certain businesses, like TopGolf and New Mexico United are allowed to operate, and others are not.  64:8 – 66:13

The Public Health Orders do not consider the potential harm or damage to the businesses that are being closed.  The Secretary does not know who, if anyone, in State government is supposed to look at the cost and damage to the businesses and people subject to the Public Health Orders.  67:10 – 69:1

The fatality rate from COVID for children ages 5 to 14 is 0.001%, or 1 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  For children age 19 and under, the fatality rate is 0.003% or 3 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  This is lower than the fatality rates for other infectious diseases.  69:4 – 70:4.

New Mexico has not studied the effect of the pandemic on childhood obesity.  72:20 – 74:13

The Secretary is unaware of any studies by the Department of Health of the impact of play deprivation on children resulting from the lockdowns and public health orders.  80:11 – 82:4

The Secretary cannot say whether the Public Health Orders will continue until the risk of COVID is zero.  82:5 – 83:5

In general, other factors such as adverse health consequences to children and adults and adverse economic impacts on businesses and employees are not taken into consideration by the Department or the Secretary when it comes to the contents of the Public Health Orders.  84:5 – 85:8.

Decisions about which businesses are in what category in the Public Health Orders is determined by the legal department working with the Secretary.  The Secretary does not know if there is a “written trail” for the decision as to which type of businesses will go in which category; nor does she know if any of the lawyers in her department have any education in public health.  89:1 – 18

The Secretary is unaware of any analysis or studies that were performed before gyms, group fitness classes, skating rinks, bowling alleys, and personal trainers were taken off the “prohibited from opening list” in the Public Health Order, to the permitted to open under limited capacity list.  93:23 – 94:14

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers before she could say how an industry or particular business activity can have its category or definition changed and be allowed to open.  94:15 – 95:7.

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers to understand why some business that cannot practice social distancing, like massage parlors, barbershops and nail salons are open, while other businesses, like trampoline parks and other “close-contact recreational facilities” where the Department is concerned about social distancing, are closed.  100:21 -101:23.

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Local Government Notable News Open Government Tax and Budget Top Issues

RGF requests and publishes public payrolls: Part 1: New Mexico Cities

New Mexico cities big and small are required to provide various public records. Unfortunately the process of requesting many of those records is onerous. That’s where the Rio Grande Foundation comes in.

We have requested, received, and published public payroll records for most of New Mexico’s major cities. You can find that information here.

To their credit, a few (typically larger) cities publish their payroll records online. You can find Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, and Santa Fe.

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Economy Education Energy and Environment Health Care Legislature Notable News Oil & Gas Open Government Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

New Mexico session another missed opportunity

The following appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, March 28, 2021. UPDATE: Originally the article stated there was a production moratorium on federal lands. There is “only” a moratorium on new permits.

New Mexico is in one of the most unusual economic times in its history. Profound forces have impacted our State over the last year in unforeseen ways.

    • The Gov. and COVID shut down much of our State for much of the past year. COVID is declining, but New Mexico remains among the most locked-down states in the nation;
    • Oil and gas prices plummeted last April due to the pandemic and an international price war, but have come roaring back and produced $300 million in “new” money and a budget surplus;
    • Democrats in Washington recently passed a $1.9 trillion dollar “stimulus” that will dump an astounding $9 billion on New Mexico State and local governments. Meanwhile the Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas permits on federal lands will cost our State more than $700 million over the next few years according to Gov. Lujan Grisham;
    • While New Mexico governments are awash in money, businesses are struggling to recover. The State’s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, 4th-worst in the nation.

To say we are living through unpredictable times would be an understatement. Oil and gas have always been volatile but are now more unpredictable than ever. This reflects broader economic uncertainty, but with the Biden Administration targeting the Industry, the Legislature must diversify our economy (this does not mean simply new sources of government revenue).

The unprecedented stream of federal spending flowing into our state is currently augmented by a flow of people. Housing markets are tight in most of our cities as Americans from big, expensive, states like California embrace remote work or simply move to states like New Mexico where they can spread out and buy a house for a lot less money.

Current trends are favorable, but long-term economic prosperity requires enacting policies that make the State more attractive as a business destination. The 2021 Legislature had a few successes but ultimately failed to enact policies that will bring long-term prosperity to New Mexico.

Despite a big budget surplus, the Legislature raised taxes on health insurance (SB 317). They imposed a new sick leave mandate on businesses, including small ones (HB 20). And, passage of HB 4, the misnamed “Civil Rights Act” will impose massive new legal costs on New Mexico governments without actually improving policing or protecting civil rights.

There were bright spots. HB 255 reformed New Mexico’s liquor licensing to make it easier for bars and restaurants long-term. HB 177 passed which allows New Mexicans to start micro-businesses by making non-perishable food items in their homes for sale.

But the gross receipts tax and its taxation of busines inputs and services remains a stumbling block for businesses. New Mexico also remains among a relatively small group of states that tax Social Security. No significant tax cuts or reforms were adopted. Also, no widespread reform of burdensome regulations (like the State’s “prevailing wage” law that artificially increases costs on public works) projects was enacted.

Some will argue that (after a decade of trying) tapping the Permanent fund to boost various education programs will help improve our workforce, but the track record of governments (including New Mexico’s) spending more money to boost education outcomes is spotty at best. Empowering parents and families with the resources needed to choose the educational option that is right for them (especially after a year of Zoom education), is more likely to succeed and at a fraction of the cost, but legislation to that effect was quickly defeated this session.

Microchip manufacturer Intel just announced that it is investing $20 billion in neighboring Arizona to build two new facilities. Such “economic diversification” is exactly what we need and what the Gov. and Legislature claim to want. Until the Legislature gets serious about reforming our economy we’ll continue riding the wave of luck, boom and bust in the oil patch, and Washington debt.

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 Notable News Open Government Top Issues

New Mexico REMAINS among most locked down states in US (44th most open) despite recent reopenings according to Wallethub

The latest Wallethub report (out today) ranks states based on Coronavirus restrictions. New Mexico remains relatively shuttered (44th most open). Worse than that, as can be seen below, New Mexico is in the unenviable position of having MANY COVID restrictions AND a high death rate. 

Furthermore (according to the bottom chart), New Mexico also has a high unemployment rate which, not surprisingly accompanies those economic restrictions.

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Education Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Economy Legislature Notable News 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

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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.

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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