Notable News

Free Markets Make Accountability Easy; Difficult to Hold APS Accountable

The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) bond measures recently passed overwhelmingly, despite a slew of scandals and payouts leading to concerns from district leaders that voters might use the bond election to punish the district. With a total of $575 million at stake, this was not a trivial concern.

An outpouring of opinion pieces and editorials from community leaders urged voters to put their concerns about the district and its management aside and support the bonds “for the children.” This was seemingly effective, as turnout was nearly double what it normally is for similar elections (still low at 7 percent, but much bigger than normal).

There is no doubt that a rejection would have gotten APS’s attention. It was a blunt instrument indeed, but it would have generated a swift reaction from district leaders.

Since the blunt instrument was rejected by voters, what means do voters have of keeping APS accountable? Locally, it pretty much boils down to electing the “right” people to the school board. Since the main job of the school board is to hire a district superintendent who ultimately oversees the schools, this is another weak and indirect method of accountability.

The situation at the state level is not much better. We elect a governor and legislators based on dozens of issues (and personality traits), with their stances on education among them. The governor then hires a secretary of education who is in charge of implementing that governor’s education policies. This process is yet another indirect and slow means of holding our education system accountable. What if I like Gov. Martinez’s policies on taxes and the economy, but don’t like what Department of Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is doing? Or, I might strongly dislike the governor, but appreciate what Skandera is doing. How do average people communicate their concerns to these people?

This is not limited to the current administration. Accountability, specifically its absence, is endemic to government educational systems.

If businesses think accountability in education is a trivial matter, they need look no further than New Mexico’s worst-in-the-nation graduation rate, constant discussion of our “workforce preparedness/quality,” and the tremendous growth in education spending in recent decades.

An intermediate step toward improved accountability is school choice. Ironically, the week immediately prior to the APS bond election was celebrated as “National School Choice Week.” New Mexico has some choice, most notably charter schools. I’m on the board of a charter school and support them, but the approval or rejection of a school’s charter (a legal document granting from a charter-granting authority) is yet another blunt tool for reformers.

Other forms of school choice offer greater potential for success. These include: vouchers and tax credits, as well as education savings accounts, which were recently enacted in Nevada. These options – particularly tax credits in recent years – have been discussed in New Mexico’s legislature. In terms of accountability, they would be a huge improvement. If these schools don’t perform at a level that makes them significantly better than traditional public schools, those schools will go out of business. On the other hand, if more parents demand a particular choice than are available, someone will attempt to expand the supply of similar options.

That’s real, direct accountability – the kind that comes from the free market. Competition quickly allowed consumers to embrace, and then reject, Blackberry devices, while iPhones and Androids made (and continue to make) rapid advances and continually innovate in order to win greater market share.

Unfortunately, that is a level of accountability that is beyond the wildest dreams of even ambitious education reformers today. School choice is the best available option and New Mexico policymakers need to get on board with it now if our state is ever going to get out of last place both educationally and economically.

Economy Education Notable News Tax and Budget

Slew of Bad Rankings Reflect New Mexico’s Difficult Reality

Over the years, New Mexicans have grown used to seeing their state at the bottom of a lot of good lists and at the top of many of the bad ones. This long-term systemic problem has grown worse due to declines in federal spending and employment at the Labs and military installations as well as plunging prices of oil and natural gas.

There are a lot of great people in New Mexico. We have a unique culture, internationally-recognized events and attractions, all topped off by incredible weather and landscapes. Unfortunately, for decades many believed that federal largess and mineral wealth were adequate bases for our economy. Business-friendly economic policies were ignored in favor of finding ways to tax and redistribute resources from these two industries.

This phenomenon is quite common. The list of resource-rich, but economically-backward nations is long including Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Libya, and Iraq (to name a few).

In just the span of a few weeks New Mexicans found their state ranked poorly on a series of national reports:

*51st by the Associated Builders and Contractors on their “Merit Shop Scorecard” of issues important to the construction industry (adding insult to injury, neighboring Arizona ranked 1st);
*50th on the 24/7 Wall Street ranking of best and worst run states in America. The rankings were based in large part on our underfunded government pension programs, high unemployment rate, and high crime rate;
*Highest unemployment rate in the nation at 6.8 percent;
*Lowest graduation rate according to the US Department of Education;
*One of seven states to lose population in 2015 according to the Census Bureau;
*Tied for 46th in overall economic freedom by the free market Fraser Institute of Canada.


They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. New Mexico has relied on government and natural resources to solve its problems for far too long. It is time for a dramatic new free market strategy.

The strategy works wherever it is tried. Texas which continues to be a magnet for both jobs and people (it led the nation in population growth during 2015 and from 2010 to 2015) also ranked 3rd in overall economic freedom. It is a “right to work” state with no personal income tax and no corporate income tax. These are just a few of Texas’ many positive attributes when it comes to business and investment.

Colorado is another state that does a lot right. All tax hikes in Colorado must be approved by voters at the polls while government revenue growth is limited to the combined rates of inflation and population growth. The state also legalized marijuana in a way that maximizes market flexibility and is expected to generate an astonishing $1 billion for the state in 2016. Lastly, in 2004 Colorado adopted the “first-of-its-kind” voucher system for higher education.

Unfortunately, the complacent attitude of many New Mexicans is not going to change quickly or easily. Special interests have built up over the years that are perfectly happy with the status quo even if it impoverishes their fellow New Mexicans.

But more people than ever are demanding serious reforms. There are even some small successes to point to. For example, reductions in the excise tax on “micro-breweries” a few years ago has led to exploding growth in this area.

Last year with Republicans in control of the New Mexico House for the first time since the 1950s passed more than a dozen specific reforms designed to make our state more attractive to business investment. Unfortunately, the Democrat-controlled Senate with Michael Sanchez at the helm did not even hold votes on many of these reforms.

As we head into the 2016 legislative session, many of these same issues will be discussed. For the good of New Mexico, enough Senate Democrats must demand at least a fair vote on basic reforms. Long-overdue reforms will allow young, educated New Mexicans to find gainful employment at home rather than forcing them to relocate elsewhere out of economic necessity.

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

Economy Notable News Spaceport Videos

Explaining The Folly of NM’s Spaceport

New Mexico’s political leaders have few tools available to make the New Mexico Spaceport a viable initiative moving forward. We the taxpayers have already dumped $220 million into the facility to build it (sunk costs). The question at this point seems to be whether the facility can at least generate enough revenue to pay for day-to-day operations. I recently sat down with Channel 13 KRQE to discuss the issue (my comments come toward the end of the story):

Given the recent crash in the Mojave Desert, there has been an upsurge of interest both nationwide and around the world. I recently discussed New Mexico’s struggles with the Texas Tribune and was quoted by a reporter from the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Constitution and Criminal Justice Notable News Research Tax and Budget Top Issues

Free Market Think Tank Offers Criminal Justice Reform Ideas in Advance of First Criminal Justice Subcommittee Meeting

(Albuquerque) Just in time for the first meeting of the Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee, the Rio Grande Foundation is providing an update on its original, 2009 report, which arguably started the ball rolling on criminal justice reform in the Land of Enchantment.

The new report, “Criminal Justice Policy in New Mexico: Keys to Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety (Updated),” which was authored by Marc Levin, Policy Director of Right on Crime with Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation, provides a variety of bi-partisan, but fiscally-conservative ideas for the Subcommittee to consider, including:

• Expanded use of drug courts;
• Introduction of courts similar to Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement Drug (HOPE) Courts where offenders are ordered to treatment and must call in a number every morning to see if they have to report to the court to take a drug test. If they fail, they are jailed for several days, usually weekend jail in order to preserve employment;
• Mandatory Probation, Treatment and Work Requirements for First-Time Drug Offenders: This policy should apply only to individuals caught with small quantities of drugs that are for personal use;
• Graduated Responses for Probationers and Parolees: Research indicates this approach reduces technical revocations to prison because the swift but proportionate responses effectively lay down the law, deterring future violations;
• Performance-Based Probation Funding: Under this incentive-based approach which has not been adopted in New Mexico, probation departments receive a share of the state’s savings from less incarceration when they reduce their revocations to prison without increasing probationers’ convictions for new offenses. The probation departments are required to reinvest the additional funds in victim services, substance abuse treatment, and strategies to improve community supervision and reduce recidivism;
• Modernize Sentencing Laws: New Mexico should revise its sentencing laws to ensure prison space is prioritized for violent and dangerous offenders;
• Utilize Victim-Offender Conferencing: Conferencing is often used in property offense cases, particularly for first-time offenders, and must be chosen by both the victim and the offender, since the offender is required to take responsibility for his conduct. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King recently called for similar efforts; and
• Reduced Barriers for Nonviolent Ex-Offenders to Obtain Occupational Licenses;

Many of these reforms have been introduced with great success in other states that can provide both data and a road map for successful implementation.

Notable News

ProgressNM’s Completely Bogus Cookie-Cutter Report Attacking Rio Grande Foundation

ProgressNowNM, a far-left cookie-cutter (even down to their name) organization financed by George Soros and others is attacking the Rio Grande Foundation and members of the State Policy Network. The new attack campaign focuses primarily on money and where it comes from rather than any honest discussion over the issues and their merits.

Amusingly enough, however, ProgressNow has created alleged “fact sheets” on the Rio Grande Foundation and other SPN groups. To say that there are errors and downright falsehoods in the attack on the Rio Grande Foundation would be an understatement. Let’s go through them:

1) ALEC’s home in NM: Yes, the Rio Grande Foundation works with a wide variety of organizations including the American Legislative Exchange Council which we have hosted for an event. I once appeared alongside (on the same side) of an issue with Pat Davis of ProgressNowNM at a panel discussion sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico. So what?

2) I am indeed on the board of New Mexico Connections Academy, an online charter school here in NM. Much like other schools contract with private, for-profit providers for textbooks, bus service, and technology, we contract with Connections. I am proud to play a direct role in increasing educational choice here in New Mexico!

3) My credentials in publishing in a wide variety of media outlets are strong. This accusation is just a rehashing of a blogger’s rantings from a few years ago. The original has been taken down. Wall Street Journal: here, here, here, and here.

Washington Post here, here, and here.

US News & World Report: here.

If you take a look at these press clips, you’ll notice that I have been advocating for free markets and limited government for well over a decade since my days at the National Taxpayers Union in Washington, DC. I’m clearly in this work because I believe in free markets and limited government, not because some big $$ donors are paying us off…and you know what, I believe that the folks at ProgressNow are principled in believing that government has all the answers for society’s woes.

4) Regarding our supposedly “extreme” agenda for New Mexico, again I’ll take it point by point:

a) Defund and privatize New Mexico’s public schools with voucher programs and virtual schools: We support the rights of parents and children to choose the education that makes the most sense for them. Funding for education should flow through the child, not through the bureaucracy.

b) Block access to affordable healthcare for New Mexican families: We oppose the health care law known as ObamaCare and expansions of government programs like Medicaid. Rather, we support reducing government-imposed regulatory and tax barriers to health care that come between patients and their doctors.

c) Oppose environmental and pollution protections: Simply not true, but we do support cost-benefit analyses of all government regulations and weighing them against the economic benefits of industries such as oil and gas that support New Mexico’s economy.

d) Destroy public pensions: This is another false statement. Rio Grande Foundation supports reforms such as “defined contribution” retirement plans that give government workers control over their own retirements (much like private-sector workers) and removes control over government pension investments from politicians who have proved repeatedly to be poor stewards of these resources.

e) Attack workers’ right to organize and bargain by pushing so-called “Right to Work” legislation: Right to Work does nothing to prevent workers from organizing. It simply makes it illegal to force a worker to join a union as a condition of employment.

f) Cut off funding and revenue for essential government services: This is so general as to be utterly meaningless. RGF has never urged the elimination or dramatic reduction of government funding for police, fire, or roads.

Notable News Open Government

Former New Mexican Reporter David Collins is the New, New Mexico Watchdog

(Albuquerque) The Rio Grande Foundation is pleased to announce that it has hired former Santa Fe New Mexican report David Collins to head up its investigative projects at New Mexico Watchdog.

David Collins proved his mettle as a professional reporter covering civil unrest in Wisconsin in 1989. Since his first professional assignments as a talk-radio host and news producer at a rural, tribally owned radio station, he has reported for several print publications as both a freelancer and a staff writer. He has held positions as a cops-and-courts reporter, a business writer, an investigative journalist and a general-assignment news hound.

In addition to work as a freelance reporter and a Web developer, he has held desks at WOJB-FM in northern Wisconsin, the Centralia Fireside Guard in Missouri, the Junction City Daily Union in Kansas, Rio Grande Sun in Española and most recently the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Building on early mass-communication experience as a fleet-footed remote-broadcast specialist at a community public radio station, he developed skills for the digital millennium as a Web programmer and a data analyst. An aggressive advocate for open governance at a time when complex technologies threaten to put much government information beyond the reach of the lay public, he often prefers to query official data than to take a quote from a public official.

Ideologically, he’s embraced neither the left, the right nor the center, but supports informed understanding among diverse interests. When pressed to testify about his own ideals, he calls himself a pragmatist with a steady inclination toward personal freedom.

Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation, in announcing the hiring, said “Jim Scarantino blazed the trail for web-based investigative reporting in New Mexico. I am confident that David Collins will continue to break new stories and make the political classes uncomfortable as he asks probing questions and digs deep to uncover the truth.”

Collins’ first story, “Controversy Looms Over Sunshine Portal Hand-Off” is available at:

Audio Notable News

Paul Gessing’s Recent Radio Appearances

Things have been quite busy here at RGF. This includes several recent radio appearances. I was on Bob Clark’s show for an hour discussing tax cuts and a variety of other subjects relating to listener calls;

Also, KUNM had a series of interviews with myself and other politicos and policy watchers relating to Governor Richardson’s legacy.

I discussed Richardson’s lack of action on education reform here;

His scandals here;

and, his record on tax cuts and spending here;

Notable News Videos

Paul Gessing’s Recent Appearance on “In Focus”

I had a place at the table for last week’s “In Focus” program on Channel 5 KNME. Topics included Obama’s visit to Albuquerque, the race for governor, the closing of the GE plant in the South Valley, and more. Check it out:

Economy Local Government Notable News Open Government

Speech by John Fund of the Wall Street Journal at New Mexico Conference 2009 Conference

John Fund of the Wall Street Journal spoke at the New Mexico Turnaround conference that was held in Albuquerque on September 18 and 19. He discussed a wide range of topics including ACORN, election conference, and President Obama’s hubris. Check the video out below:

Local Government Notable News

Local Rep Leading Fight for States


There is a movement sweeping the nation — bills have been introduced in 23 states including New Mexico — to restore the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

What, you might say is the 10th Amendment and why is it important? Well, that is part of the problem right there.

Most Americans have a general understanding of the first and second amendments which address freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the right to bear arms, but unfortunately, because it has been ignored so long, the 10th Amendment has been largely ignored to the point that few even know what it says.

The text of the Amendment is as follows: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In other words, if it isn’t specifically outlined in our nation’s founding document, the individual states and citizens should retain those rights. Given the limited scope of the federal government as laid out in the Constitution, a reassertion of their 10th Amendment rights by the States would create a sea-change in American politics.

The effort here is being led by freshman representative Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari. And, while the road to pass HJR 27 through New Mexico’s Democratically-dominated Legislature is indeed long and difficult, it is very relevant given the current economic and political issues we face.

The Constitution has been under sustained attack since at least the Administration of Woodrow Wilson, but as written, the Founders proscribed a federal government that is involved in little more than coordinating foreign policy and running a postal service. If states were to seriously re-assert their interests under the 10th Amendment, America would be a far different (and better) place.

That is because the federal government is a monopolistic government. That’s because if you as a citizen don’t like or are negatively impacted by federal policies, it is difficult to escape those policies. Governments are of course notoriously inefficient as are monopolies, but the combination of the two has resulted in the current bloated, unresponsive, and incredibly wasteful federal government we are burdened with today.

Indeed, while the individual states still suffer from the inefficiencies associated with government, they are not monopolies. They are forced to compete with each other to create jobs and attract residents and it is relatively easy for businesses and individuals to re-locate to another state with friendlier policies. The genius of the Founding Fathers is this concept of “federalism” which set up the laboratory of the states in which policies are tried and shared.

The federal government, on the other hand, through programs as diverse as the highway program with its rampant earmarks and Medicaid under which New Mexico receives a perverse-incentive-creating $3-to-$1 match from the federal government, promotes waste while removing the responsibility for creating economic growth from the individual states and centralizes it in Washington.

And that was before we embarked on the stimulus spending spree of the last six months!

Even if the efforts of Roch and similar efforts nationwide fail, their work is useful because we need to have a serious debate about the role of states relative to the federal government.

For example: Do the words of the Constitution have meaning or are they simply suggestions? If so, what of this supposed system of checks and balances upon which America was founded and what does it mean not only for President Obama, but Congress and future elected officials? Lastly, if the Constitution does need to be updated to reflect modern society, should we amend it or simply continue to ignore it?

Hopefully, the rest of New Mexico’s elected officials (and concerned citizens) will join Roch in this pushing this discussion forward.

Paul J. Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, which promotes prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility. Contact him at: