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RGF had a day in court (10th Circuit to be exact) defending free speech

The Rio Grande Foundation is a staunch advocate for free speech and the ability for speech by those who want to speak without having their name and personal information spread all over the Internet and media outlets.

Dating back to our efforts against Santa Fe’s proposed (and defeated) soda and sugary drinks tax, the Foundation has been fighting against Santa Fe’s donor disclosure rule with legal representation from Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. You can read the details of the hearing and the case itself here.

The issue of free  and private speech is relevant in the US Congress these days with the US Congress considering HR 1, legislation that would chill free speech.

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ABQ Journal op-ed: Politicians are creating hole in center of ABQ

Anyone who has lived in or even visited Albuquerque as a young person has visited Cliff’s Amusement Park. Once upon a time it was “Uncle Cliff’s.” The place has been a local fixture for more than six decades.

It is also in danger thanks to the mismanagement of our state, most notably by our governor during the COVID 19 situation, but Cliff’s also faces longer-term problems thanks to the anti-business attitudes of increasing numbers of state and local politicians.

Policymakers seem bound and determined to force Cliff’s Amusement Park out of business, thus destroying a place that holds cherished memories for generations of New Mexicans.

Most pressing is the dire need for the park to simply reopen. Thanks to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders, 2020 was the first time the park did not open for an entire season. Forty-six of the 50 states have allowed amusement parks to open. Not New Mexico.

Yet for locked down businesses like Cliff’s, costs continue to mount. Cliff’s sits on prime Albuquerque real estate between San Mateo and I-25. Property taxes and maintenance bills continue to mount even if revenues dry up.

Despite a national plan presented to the governor under which the park could open safely, they were prohibited from doing so. Disney World and all of Disney’s properties in Orlando have been safely operating for months, as have various Universal Studios properties. Ohio’s Kings Island and Cedar Point parks both opened this past summer as did parks in numerous states throughout the nation.

A few months ago, my family visited the Great Wolf Lodge in Scottsdale. The park has a near-exact replica of the water area found at Cliff’s, but bigger and indoors. Again, as with the amusement parks that have opened, there have been no reports of COVID-19 outbreaks at these facilities. My family included.

There is no use worrying about 2020, but Cliff’s typically opens in April and that is not far off for a park that hires hundreds of local teenagers on a seasonal basis every year and had to lay off 20 full-time employees last year.

In October, Gary Hays, the head of Cliff’s, told KOAT, “I honestly don’t know if we can survive without opening up (next year).” And, unless something changes – and soon – it would seem that Cliff’s and numerous other entertainment venues, including the Albuquerque Isotopes, will remain closed for the foreseeable future, possibly permanently.

Under the governor’s red, yellow, green rubric, Cliff’s and other entertainment venues won’t be able to open even when their respective county gets into the green zone. Currently, every county in the state but sparsely-populated Catron is in the red.

And that’s not all, even if the governor were to come to her senses and allow Cliff’s and other recreational facilities to open tomorrow, the policies being imposed in Albuquerque and Santa Fe are causing businesses like Cliff’s to suffer “death by a thousand cuts.”

Mandatory paid sick leave, which has been repeatedly rejected at the city level, will now be considered in the Legislature. The state’s minimum wage just rose from $9.00 to $10.50 an hour and is on its way to $12.00 an hour in a few years. There is serious talk of further increasing the minimum wage again this session.

Cliffs’ workforce consists of 98% teenagers. They are the state’s largest employer of young people and – not surprisingly – have been hit especially hard by the pandemic and economic shutdowns. Even if the park opens on time and as usual this spring, the hostile policy climate is making business for Cliff’s and other small businesses more difficult each year.

Do we really want a Cliff’s-sized hole in the middle of Albuquerque? If the park closes, the prime real estate will be filled by warehouses or fast food joints, but an unfillable hole will remain for this and future generations of New Mexico youth.

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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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.

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Rio Grande Foundation in the news on paid sick leave AND public health order enforcement

In case you missed it, Albuquerque’s City Council recently punted on TWO big issues. RGF discussed both issues with KOB TV channel 4. You can watch the discussion relating to fines and even jail time for disobeying the public health order below.

And, RGF and the local business community has engaged in a the issue of mandatory paid sick leave. The Council (again) pushed the final vote to at least February 1, 2021.

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Paid sick time: It’s wrong time for more burdens on businesses

The Rio Grande Foundation signed this opinion piece along with numerous other business groups. The Sick leave ordinance is being introduced at the ABQ City Council meeting on Monday, November 9, 2020.

Back in July, Darin Sand, vice president for development at Goodman Realty, told the Albuquerque Journal “We are diversifying and looking to other cities and states in terms of future investments, and I think that’s smart … because of the political environment here.”

He was one of several local business owners who expressed concerns about their ability to do business in Albuquerque in the article, “ABQ businesses manifest financial ruin.” The story highlighted in stark detail the impacts of the economic lockdown. It also showed ways in which state and local economic policies make life difficult for local businesses.

Yet the Albuquerque City Council will be bringing up the issue of a paid sick leave mandate. This comes on top of a minimum wage increase passed in 2019 by the N.M. Legislature that will take the city’s lowest wage from $9.35 an hour to $10.50 an hour starting in January. That’s a 12% increase.

Not many local businesses have achieved 12% growth this year. In fact, the list of local business closures in recent months, due mostly to COVID-19, is long and growing fast. Does the City Council really want to hasten the demise of even more of the stores and restaurants that make our city and state unique?

Albuquerque voters rejected a paid sick leave mandate in 2017. And the City Council rightly decided to put off the issue back in June of this year. It is hard to see what has changed that would merit the imposition of yet another increase in the costs of doing business.

If anything, with the state’s economic lockdown dragging on and Albuquerque’s unemployment rate elevated, the state of most small businesses is even more precarious than it was this summer. A widely-acknowledged trend to arise from the COVID 19 pandemic is that many big corporations are doing fine or even better than before, while small businesses are struggling. Numerous local businesses have yet to reopen at all since March, and yet the City Council is considering imposing additional costs and regulations on them.

The ongoing COVID situation should not be an excuse to impose more costs on local businesses. At the beginning of the outbreak Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires employers with less than 500 employees to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. This paid leave is then paid back to the employer by the federal government. This is effective through Dec. 31 and likely to be extended with the next federal relief package.

It is, of course, small, family businesses that will be most negatively impacted by another costly policy. That’s because unlike big corporations, each new mandate makes doing business incrementally harder as they have less cushion and are not diversified in numerous areas of the country.

Valuing small business is why we’ll all celebrate Small Business Saturday later this month. While many of us have enjoyed the ability to have products and services delivered during this pandemic, it is also worth noting that Amazon doesn’t sponsor many youth baseball and soccer teams around town.

While businesses in Albuquerque face numerous difficulties, we do value our workers and want them to be healthy. In fact, workers often stick with small businesses because they more resemble a family. We know COVID-19 has impacted all of us, not just our bottom lines, but our friends, families and employees. We’ve heard “We’re all in this together.” If that is truly the case, now is definitely not the time for Albuquerque’s City Council to put more regulations on struggling local businesses.

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RGF recent radio appearances

This has been a big week for the Rio Grande Foundation on the air. Paul recently sat down with Bob Clark of KKOB 96.3FM. You can find that show here. Bob and Paul discuss numerous topics from the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her legacy as well as well as Paul’s family’s efforts to home school their children.

Paul also sat down with Jim Williams at KNKT Radio 107.1 FM. We discussed numerous issues in their discussion. You can listen to that discussion at the link above or by clicking on the image below.

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

RGF president Paul Gessing discusses Albuquerque Police on KOB Channel 4

The Rio Grande Foundation is avowedly NOT an expert on the nitty-gritty of policing, BUT when asked about the general role of what a new police chief for New Mexico’s largest city should do, we definitely have a perspective. We shared that with KOB TV Channel 4.

1) Police MUST protect property including businesses downtown AND statues. Waiting and simply watching vandals destroy businesses and public property is a bad strategy and it undermines the very role of policing. This includes doing more to move homeless encampments out of parks and other public areas.

2) Politicization of policing is a problem. The Mayor should set goals and standards and let the professionals work to achieve them.

3) “Defunding” the police is simply not going to happen, nor should it. Reforms must be considered to both encourage proactive law enforcement AND respect for individual rights, but even substantial budget cuts are likely NOT helpful in high-crime Albuquerque.

You can watch what we have to say below:

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RGF President on Cato Institute Podcast: Economics of Shuttered Military Bases (as seen from Roswell/Walker AFB)

Closing military bases can disrupt economies, but those closures can present opportunities for local economics, as well. Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation details cases of military base closures in New Mexico. Our full policy paper on the issue discussed in this podcast can be found here.

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Albuquerque to pay nearly $100,000 for “social distance” fireworks displays

The Rio Grande Foundation always is on the lookout for unnecessary government spending. With this Independence Day “on lockdown” the City of Albuquerque chose to spend nearly $100,000 to put on four fireworks displays instead of the usual one at Balloon Fiesta Park (which actually cost the City zero).

This fact was not discussed in the recent KOAT Channel 7 story in which briefly shared my thoughts on the issue. In reality, the City could have modified  their one fireworks display to embrace reasonable social distancing guidelines (just as it seems could have been done with Balloon Fiesta. Instead, in a time of budget issues the City is spending nearly $100,000 for four displays throughout the City in order to keep  people at home.

Anyone who knows that he’s not a huge fan of fireworks. Hanging out in a car and watching the big City display from a nearby park is his preferred approach. It is strange and unfortunate that the City couldn’t come up with an innovative approach that brought Albuquerque residents together (safely) rather than keeping them apart.

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Local Government Notable News Open Government Top Issues

RGF Files Public Records Lawsuit Against City of Albuquerque

(Albuquerque, NM) – The voters of Albuquerque voted against Democracy Dollars in November of 2019, and the Rio Grande Foundation played a pivotal part in the defeat of the ballot measure. Furthermore, the Rio Grande Foundation won an ethics complaint against the Mayor for his use of the City’s website (CABQ.gov) in which he specifically called for voters to approve Democracy Dollars and other bond measures.

Almost six months later, the Foundation has filed suit over a lack of transparency and openness associated with Mayor Tim Keller’s decision to violate the law.

Specifically, the Rio Grande Foundation requested a reasonable collection of text messages and emails sent to and from specific City employees leading up to the posting of Mayor Keller’s pleas on the City’s website to vote “YES”.

According to the Rio Grande Foundation, the public records request was filed under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records law and accepted by the City in December of 2019. After dutifully paying the invoice to receive the first portion of these records, the City of Albuquerque has failed to produce any records in response to the request from over five months ago.

Patrick Brenner, a Policy Analyst with the Foundation, filed the original request. Mr. Brenner has left no less than six voicemails and has sent dozens of emails and messages through the City’s open government portal imploring the City to fulfil its duty to provide public records.

On May 12, 2020, after exhausting all other avenues to obtain these public records, which includes receiving assistance from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government when Director Melanie Majors sent a letter of complaint to no avail, the Rio Grande Foundation filed a legal complaint in District Court against the City.

In the lawsuit the Foundation alleges that Ethan Watson, City Clerk, and the Custodian of Records, Yvette Gurule, are creating artificial delays in order to delay production of these public records. Early in the process, the Foundation emphatically requested confirmation from Mr. Watson and Ms. Gurule that these documents were not being destroyed. To date, no such confirmation has been received.

The Foundation recognizes that the ongoing response to the Coronavirus pandemic may have caused delays later in the request process. However, the Coronavirus does not excuse any governmental body from its obligation to timely respond and provide public records requested in accordance with the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.

Click here to see a copy of the lawsuit that was filed.