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Economy Energy and Environment Legislature Notable News Oil & Gas Top Issues

Oil and gas both a blessing and curse for New Mexico

The following appeared on Sep. 16, 2021 at KRWG.

 

 

 

The news that New Mexico’s oil and gas industry has again generated record-breaking revenues for the State was welcomed by policymakers and interest groups alike. But the disconnect between the State budget picture and the economic situation for average New Mexicans could not be starker. And this is one of the “problems” associated with the state’s dependence on oil and gas.

Don’t get me wrong: we at the Rio Grande Foundation fully support the oil and gas industries. The so-called “progressive” Democrats in the Legislature who signed a letter to the Biden Administration earlier this year in support of the Administration’s illegal moratorium on new permits on federal lands definitely believe oil is a curse. We believe that New Mexicans are the recipients of a fabulous gift and that there is no reason for us to be among the poorest states in the nation as is currently the case.

New Mexico is “cursed” by bad politicians, not by its bountiful resources. But those resources all too often prop up bad decisions made by our political leaders. Until voters hold them accountable, New Mexico, blessed as it is by nature, will continue to founder.

Our poverty contrasts with our resource wealth in the same way as the new revenue picture contrasts with the state’s outsized unemployment rate. At 7.6 percent, New Mexico has the 2nd-highest jobless rate in the nation. It is not entirely surprising that our workforce participation rate which measures the percentage of people actually engaged in gainful work, also lags badly.

New Mexico’s poverty rate is high (3rd-worst in the nation) and according to the US Census Bureau the state badly lagged its region in population growth over the past decade. We were named the number one “economically-failing” state another recent report and the “progressive” Voices for Children’s own report ranks us a dismal 49th.

It’s not a lack of money or government spending. Government in New Mexico is already bigger than it is in our neighboring states by quite a bit and our faster-growing neighbors spend much of their money on state/local government than we do. It is anathema to New Mexico’s “progressives,” but it is time to return a healthy chunk of this surplus to the private sector.

The low-hanging fruit and an absolute “must” for the 2022 legislative session is reform of our state’s onerous, business-killing, and regressive Gross Receipts Tax (GRT). This regressive tax directly and unnecessarily impedes the growth of small businesses in our state. Reforming the GRT to eliminate taxes on business inputs is a must this session. It can be done with relatively minimal revenue reductions, but, reducing high GRT rates would be a welcome move.

Social security tax reform has also been discussed in recent years. The tax brings in approximately $85 million annually. Eliminating it would make New Mexico a more attractive destination for retirees.

Finally, while it is a bit of a stretch for such a left-leaning body, New Mexico could do a lot to make itself more attractive as a business destination by simply doing away with its corporate income tax. The tax generates about $130 million annually or about 1/10th of next year’s surplus. This is eminently “do-able” and when combined with long-overdue GRT reform would go a long way to getting New Mexico’s economy moving again.

New Mexico’s Democrat-controlled legislature has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use this windfall to diversify New Mexico’s economy. If they fail, voters must hold them accountable.

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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Education Legislature Notable News Top Issues

Las Cruces Sun-News piece: Back to school brings big challenges in New Mexico

 

 

School has begun for most New Mexico students. While every school year is different, this year is certainly more different than most. For starters, students are returning to “semi-normal” classrooms after 1.5 years of remote learning and relative chaos. Unfortunately, as of this writing schools in Rio Rancho, Carlsbad, Los Lunas, and Roswell have “temporarily” had to again go “virtual.”

Lost classroom time has had a big impact on academic outcomes for New Mexico students. According to the Legislative Finance Committee, the Legislature’s “in-house” think tank, K-12 students in New Mexico have fallen behind anywhere from six months to two years. Furthermore, lost classroom time will widen existing learning gaps, particularly for low-income families.

Many New Mexicans likely assume that students across the nation, not just in New Mexico, spent most of the 2020-2021 school year doing remote learning, that is not the case. According to the Burbio website which tracks various COVID-related policies, Utah students spent more than 80% of the year in their classrooms last year and Colorado students were in their classrooms nearly 65% of the time. New Mexico students were in their classrooms only about 33% of the time. According to Burbio, New Mexico students lost more classroom time than students in all but five other states last year.

Even prior to COVID, we knew that New Mexico students perform worse than students in virtually any other state. Catching up from both the preexisting learning gap and the one created last year is going to be a serious challenge. Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) is in chaos. After just 2.5 years in office, Gov. Lujan Grisham is now on her 4th Education Secretary with the recent departure of Ryan Stewart.

At a July LFC meeting several legislators and tribal leaders raised some difficult questions about the ability of the State’s education system as it currently exists to improve student outcomes.

These were not Republicans who have long been frustrated by the growing K-12 budgets absent improved results. Rather, Democrat Rep. Derrick Lente (Sandia Pueblo) expressed concern for Native American students saying they, “have been left to rot because of where they come from” for many years. How much longer do our children have to fail for us to get this right?” Lente continued.

Another powerful, “progressive” Democrat (just named to the 2nd-highest position in the House) Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque said he had, “started to question whether more money is actually needed beyond what we’ve invested. I think we’re losing steam,” Martinez said, “I’d hate to be back here in 20 years talking about how nothing has changed.”

To say that we at the Rio Grande Foundation concur with these legislators’ concerns would be an understatement. We have long held that robust reforms including both increased choice and accountability are critical to improving New Mexico’s educational performance.

Of course, talking about a problem and taking action to solve it are two very different things. In this year’s 60-day legislative session several “school choice” bills were introduced only to be killed immediately.

Will the upcoming 2022 session be different? That is ultimately up to voters. Across the nation school choice is spreading rapidly in states where education policy is not controlled by unions. Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Legislature is not one of those states. School board elections are coming this fall. If you are concerned about education policy in New Mexico, educate yourself on school board candidates and vote this November. The Rio Grande Foundation’s sister organization Opportunities for All Kids New Mexico www.oaknm.org is currently surveying school board candidates and publishing the results online.

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 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.

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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.

Categories
Audio Economy Education Energy and Environment Notable News Top Issues

Paul Gessing discusses the latest news and challenges facing our State on New Mexico Rising Podcast

Paul had a fun conversation with the guys at the New Mexico Rising podcast. You can find the conversation below on Youtube as well as audio versions of this and other podcast episodes here.

Categories
Education Notable News Top Issues

KRQE covers mask protests

Over a very busy weekend the head of the Rio Grande Foundation joined New Mexicans (in Albuquerque) protesting against masking kids in school this fall. At its peak there were approximately 150 people in attendance. Especially notable were the loud horn honks from the numerous cement truck drivers as they passed. Blue collar workers certainly seem to oppose masking kids in school.

RGF’s Paul Gessing briefly spoke to the reporter for the story at the end below:

The Conservative New Mexican also had an excellent writeup of the Albuquerque event.

 

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Education Notable News Open Government Top Issues Videos

RGF discusses “Monuments to Me” Sheryl Williams Stapleton edition on KOB TV

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton is in hot water and resigned over serious allegations of money laundering. Over a decade ago the Rio Grande Foundation questioned the practice of naming public facilities after elected officials. KOB TV interviewed RGF president Paul Gessing about the issue. Watch the full story here:

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Education Legislature Notable News RailRunner Spaceport Top Issues

New Mexico politics summed up in one handy Trever cartoon

To say that we’re fans of Albuquerque Journal editorial cartoonist John Trever may be a bit of an understatement. But the Sunday cartoon (below) is particularly genius because of its multiple meanings about the way New Mexico politics and policies work.

  1. Private success vs. Public sector failure: While we have certainly criticized Bill Richardson’s decision to build a $200+ million Spaceport for Richard Branson, in the bigger picture both Bransons’ and Bezos’ successes are achievements for the private space industry. New Mexico’s schools are overwhelmingly government-run and funded. It would be nice if those who are rightly frustrated by the failures of this system would join us in focusing their efforts on bringing private sector competition and competence to bear on the difficult challenge of improving literacy in NM.
  2. A SECOND interpretation of the cartoon is yet another common theme of New Mexico government. Rather than doing the basics (like education) well, elected officials prefer to pursue expensive, high profile projects that really aren’t appropriate functions of government. The Spaceport is one such example, but Mayor Keller’s plans to build a new soccer stadium (with a starting price tag of at least $65-$70 million just to build, let alone property acquisition and inevitable cost-overruns) is another. Again, crime and public safety are crises demanding resources and attention, but Keller would rather build a stadium instead.
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Economy Local Government Notable News Spaceport Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Sir Richard Branson Should Pay His Own Way Into Space Instead Of Robbing New Mexicans

The following appeared on July 21, 2021 in The Federalist:

The world is in awe that billionaire Sir Richard Branson has finally accomplished his 17-year goal of achieving spaceflight. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Unity reached 53.5 miles above the Earth with a crew including Branson. They spent a few minutes in zero gravity and returned safely to the runway of Spaceport America near the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Congratulations!

The international scene is abuzz with this latest and undeniably impressive addition to Branson’s resume: but at what cost? Branson launched his flight from Spaceport America, a project initially conceived as early as 1992 when the Southwest Space Task Force was formed to develop and advance New Mexico’s space industry. The project received seed funding through a taxpayer-approved initiative in April 2007 when voters in Doña Ana County approved the spaceport tax.

Almost every year since, supporters of Spaceport America have announced the “upcoming launch” from their facility or the need for additional tax dollars to expand the Spaceport and its capabilities. To bolster their claims for additional tax money, Spaceport America commissioned a study by the consulting firm Moss Adams of Albuquerque. The study made headlines with the implausible claim that Spaceport America began producing net benefits for New Mexico as early as 2013.

In March 2020, the Rio Grande Foundation tallied up the total costs to taxpayers, determining that New Mexicans have borne a total project cost of $275 million, while revenues approach only $54.3 million for the state over the last 12 years. The vast majority of taxpayer-funded spending related to capital projects and nearly $10 million in operational expenditures. In fact, new information shows New Mexico shelled out an additional $1.5 million in advertising expenses related to the Virgin Galactic flight.

Branson is already a billionaire. Why are New Mexico’s politicians lining the pockets of these already wealthy and successful entrepreneurs through taxpayer-funded, industry-specific subsidies? The impact of corporate welfare disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged, especially in impoverished communities like Doña Ana County and New Mexico as a whole.

In 2019, the state suffered from one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding economic lockdown of the past 15 months has certainly exacerbated our financial woes.

In fact, New Mexico trails the southwest in employment recovery. A recent report by WalletHub highlights the state’s 620 percent increase in unemployment claims, referring to the change in the number of initial unemployment insurance claims in the week of July 5, 2021 compared to the week of July 8, 2019. How can a state in this state afford to help send a billionaire to space?

Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut. But from my perspective as a New Mexican and taxpayer, he sure seems like a wild-west robber baron, holding up taxpayer stagecoaches of the poorest state in the country to fulfill his personal vendetta of beating fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the billionaire space race. He’s “Six-Gun” Branson, 21st-century robber baron, a stark reminder of our 19th-century industrial past.

In the end, his mission was accomplished. But Six-Gun Branson has only proven that he can launch his spacecraft from any airport with sufficient runway length. I’d hazard a guess that soon he’ll be riding off into the sunset while my fellow New Mexicans are left holding the $275 million bag.

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

Photo Hardo Muller / Flickr
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Film Subsidies Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues Videos

RGF talks New Mexico Film subsidies on Fox Business Channel

The good news is that Fox Business Channel (unlike many news outlets) actually gave a platform to critics of New Mexico’s film subsidy program to discuss the program’s financial shortcomings.

The bad news is that like nearly all media outlets they badly misunderstand the financial implications of New Mexico’s incredibly-generous film subsidy program. Check out the story below which includes a brief clip of RGF president Paul Gessing discussing Hollywood film subsidies. Along with the Youtube story is a page from a 2019 Legislative Finance Committee report on the cost of Hollywood subsidies which provides details on the direct subsidies (not additional LEDA funds which are yet another subsidy).