If you haven’t already heard, SandRidge Energy which had applied for a permit to drill in Sandoval County, has pulled its application. Certainly, low oil and gas prices may be an issue, but so was strident and vocal opposition.
As I wrote in an opinion piece published awhile back in the Rio Rancho Observer, “it’s not like New Mexico can afford to simply kick investors out. We have the nation’s highest unemployment rate. The state budget is flat due largely to the decline in oil and gas prices. And, in recent years, despite the self-evident beauty of our state and its great weather, New Mexico has seen more people — especially young ones — leaving than are coming in.”
Recently, investors looking to do business in New Mexico, bringing jobs and economic development to our state, received a harsh lesson in NIMBY (Not in my backyard) politics.
Unfortunately, while we’ve come to expect anti-oil and gas hysteria in places like Mora and Santa Fe counties, relatively conservative Rio Rancho and Sandoval County are apparently not immune.
I’m referring, of course, to SandRidge Energy’s plans to drill an exploratory well in the county on privately-owned land west of Rio Rancho. The NIMBY crowd was out in full-force with one man saying he “only” lives eight miles from the proposed site and that it was simply too close.
Yes, oil prices are down right now. And, SandRidge Energy will probably give the mob what it wants and walk away from the project.
But oil prices will rise again in the future. Whether any other investors will want to deal with the emotional and misinformed NIMBY activists who apparently dominate Sandoval County’s politics is another question.
Perhaps if these people ever got out to Farmington or Carlsbad, they would see that oil and gas wells operate discreetly all over urbanized areas. Pump jacks quietly operate in parking lots and next to golf courses on a daily basis with few problems or complaints.
The worst thing about the NIMBY crowd is their hypocrisy. They live in a state where 31 percent of the budget comes from oil and gas. They drive their oil-fueled car on blacktop made with petroleum products (and maintained with a healthy dose of oil- and gas-derived tax revenue) and take their kids to schools that are largely funded by the oil and gas industries.
As long as oil and gas production is done somewhere else, they are perfectly happy to reap the rewards.
Of course, it’s not like New Mexico can afford to simply kick investors out. We have the nation’s highest unemployment rate. The state budget is flat due largely to the decline in oil and gas prices. And, in recent years, despite the self-evident beauty of our state and its great weather, New Mexico has seen more people — especially young ones — leaving than are coming in.
This may not be of concern to the relatively affluent and politically active NIMBY crowd, but a lot of people could be helped by this project.
That’s not to say that every proposed oil and gas project should be approved. After dispassionate discussion and real research, perhaps SandRidge would have been denied on its merits. But that is not what is happening. There is no acknowledgment by hysterical activists of the Obama EPA’s repeated findings of the safety of “fracking” relative to drinking water.
There’s also no discussion of the fact that the process has been commonly used to extract oil and gas since the 1940s. It’s all emotion.
In places like Farmington, Hobbs and Carlsbad, oil and gas are part of everyday life. Often it is what puts dinner on the table for middle class families. Sandoval County doesn’t have that history. Ignorance and hysteria fill the void.
Unfortunately, mindless opposition to private sector investment is a common trait in New Mexico. It is a leading cause of our systemic poverty.
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.
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:
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
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):
(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.
• 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.
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:
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.
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.
(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: http://newmexico.watchdog.org/.
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.