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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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Rail Runner Ridership continues decline (KOB Channel 4 story)

With renewal of a gross receipts tax on the ballot in several northern New Mexico counties (Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Taos) to fund the Rail Runner and related services, the Rio Grande Foundation requested updated annual ridership information.

After years of decline and despite an improving New Mexico economy, ridership on the train again declined dramatically between FY 2017 and FY 2018. In FY 2017 835,561 rode the Rail Runner while that number dropped to 787,116 by FY 2018. That’s a decline of 5.8%.

Since FY 2010 ridership on the Rail Runner has dropped an astonishing 36.55%.

As Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing pointed out, “Mass transit ridership across the country is collapsing. The Rail Runner is no exception. Unfortunately, the train never made sense in the first place and, despite lower unemployment in New Mexico and a recovering economy, the Rail Runner continues to lose popularity. Refinancing the train doesn’t make it any more viable for New Mexico commuters.”

Earlier this year the Rail Runner received $30 million from the federal government to implement “positive train control.” The train receives tens-of-millions of dollars in direct and indirect taxpayer subsidies annually.


Notable News RailRunner RGF Events Top Issues Transportation

Free event: An Evening With Transportation Expert Randal O’Toole

An Evening With Transportation Expert
Randal O’Toole

Click here for registration form.

Like many Americans, Randal O’Toole loves passenger trains, yet he acknowledges that intercity passenger trains and – outside of the New York region – urban rail transit play little role in American life today. The replacement of passenger trains with cars, buses, and airplanes is similar to many other recent technological replacements: word processors replacing typewriters, calculators replacing slide rules, telephones replacing telegraphs, and cell phones replacing land lines.

However, only for passenger trains has the government spent billions of dollars a year attempting to turn back the clock and slow that replacement. O’Toole’s book Romance of the Rails asks why this is so and whether passenger rail has a significant role to play in the future.

Randal O’Toole will be discussing his book and some New Mexico-specific boondoggles like the Rail Runner and Albuquerque Rapid Transit (as well as potential boondoggles) at a reception held at the Rio Grande Foundation offices on Friday, November 9th from 6:00pm to 7:00pm.

Location: “The Liberty Hub” 4301 The 25 Way, Suite B (Americans for Prosperity signage) at Jefferson and I-25 across from Panera.

This is a free event open to the public. Pre-regisrations are appreciated. Light snacks will be available.

Romance of the Rails is the culmination of Randal O’Toole’s lifetime of research and experience as an enthusiast of the rails and as a transportation expert.

American transportation has undergone many technological revolutions: from sailing ships to steamships; canals to railroads; steam to diesel; horse-drawn to electric streetcars; passenger trains and urban rail transit to airplanes and automobiles. The government has allowed and encouraged most of these revolutions, but it spends billions of dollars a year attempting to turn back the clock for rail transit and intercity passenger trains.

To show why, O’Toole provides a detailed history of rail in America leading to the present, when federally subsidized efforts to return to rail’s golden age are doing more harm than good.

O’Toole examines the costly allure of high-speed trains and light rail, demonstrating that passenger rail doesn’t even work well in Europe and Asia, much less here. Far from being backward, America’s railroads are the envy of the world, moving freight efficiently and profitably while leaving passengers to other modes of travel that are faster, less expensive, and more convenient.

The book concludes that the passenger transportation of the future will rely on America’s 4 million miles of roads and on air travel. As Romance of the Rails thoroughly chronicles, Americans love passenger trains, but given the vast resources inexplicably being poured into them, we are being taken for a ride.

About the speaker:

Randal O’Toole is a Cato Institute Senior Fellow working on urban growth, public land, and transportation issues. His analysis of urban land-use and transportation issues, brought together in his 2001 book, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, has influenced decisions in cities across the country. In his book The Best-Laid Plans, O’Toole calls for repealing federal, state, and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without heavy-handed government regulation.Romance of the Rails is the culmination of Randal O’Toole’s lifetime of research and experience as an enthusiast of the rails and as a transportation expert.

Click here for registration form.


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Gessing talks 2018 New Mexico Legislative session & what to do w/ Spaceport, RailRunner, & other government boondoggles

Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing recently sat down with KRWG’s Fred Martino. We discuss the Spaceport and ongoing issues there and then move on to talking about the 2018 Legislature and why voters should be so skeptical of government infrastructure projects.

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State Has Many Opportunities to Reduce Spending

Journal columnist Winthrop Quigley seems to believe that what New Mexico’s struggling economy needs right now is higher taxes. We at the Rio Grande Foundation couldn’t disagree more and believe raising taxes would have further deleterious effects on our economy.

Disagreements aside, we do share agreement with Quigley that New Mexico’s tax structure must be reformed. The gross receipts tax is uniquely harmful to the growth and development of small businesses. It also encourages businesses to lobby the Legislature to lobby for exemptions or outright subsidies before locating here. The Legislature must act to reform this harmful tax structure.

It is a myth that New Mexico is a low-tax state. According to the Federation of Tax Administrators, our tax burden as a percent of personal income is ninth-heaviest in the nation. This is far heavier than the tax burdens of our more economically successful neighbors : Arizona ranks 39, Colorado 45, Oklahoma 37, Texas 44 and Utah 31.

Now for the (substantial) disagreements.

Quigley argues that New Mexico public employee salaries are lower than those in neighboring states. Salaries are just part of the compensation for any worker, especially government employees.

According to Key Policy data from 2013, New Mexico state and local workers make 20 percent more than their private-sector counterparts once pensions and benefits are included.

This is the 12th-highest compensation ratio in the country and far higher than in neighboring states. It also is a very good argument for serious reform of New Mexico’s government pension system.

Chart 2 New Mexico State and Local Government Compensation as a Percent of the Private Sector Rank 2013.jpg

More importantly, public employees should be paid based on what the market will bear. New Mexico’s unemployment rate is higher than that of its neighbors. The pay of government workers should reflect local market conditions.

Perhaps more importantly, New Mexico’s government workforce is bloated. Again according to Key Policy data, New Mexico has the second-most government employees relative to private-sector workers.

Chart 1 New Mexico State and Local Government Employees per 100 Private Sector Employees Rank 2013.jpg

When the number of government workers is compared to the population they serve and educators are removed from the equation, New Mexico falls to 10th-highest (according to Governing Magazine), but still far in excess of our neighbors.

As to specific ideas, we concur with Journal readers who have pointed to the RailRunner and Spaceport as likely cuts. Obviously, those aren’t enough. The next fattest target is higher education.

According to data from State Higher Education officers, New Mexico spent the fifth-most on higher education among U.S. states in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available.

The LFC has done some excellent work on the proliferation of branch campuses (number 25 at last count). It is time to reduce their numbers significantly, especially with overall enrollment declining.

Another area of significant savings is the politically popular, but economically dubious film subsidy program.

Similar programs have been panned by economists from across the political spectrum. A 2014 analysis done at the request of New Mexico’s Legislature found that the film program generated 43 cents in tax revenue for every state tax dollar spent.

Simply put, despite all the rosy press releases, New Mexico’s film program is a money-loser for New Mexico.

Lest one be misled to believe that only “liberal” government programs must be on the chopping block, New Mexico’s Local Economic Development Act program should be cut. Earlier this year, the LFC reported that “the state does not receive sufficient reporting from businesses using LEDA funds to properly evaluate” the program.

One company just received $325,000 from LEDA for the “creation” of just 14 new jobs. With those 14 employees paying income taxes on their $45,000-$50,000 salaries to New Mexico at 5 percent annually, it will take a decade for the state to recoup its “investment.”

And that assumes that the expansion would not have happened without state money.

Cutting the budget is no fun. We need to grow our economy, but our tax code is one of several reasons our economy hasn’t kept up with our neighbors’. Raising taxes will only further damage New Mexico.

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Paul Gessing’s Appearance on KRWG “Newsmakers”

On this 30 minute interview with Fred Martino of KRWG public television in Las Cruces, Gessing discusses several issues facing New Mexico including the struggling economy, the RailRunner and Spaceport, education reform, federal lands in New Mexico, and criminal justice reform. Check out the video below:

Economy Film Subsidies RailRunner

New Mexico Economy in Search of Leadership


The year 2012 was a tough one for New Mexico’s economy. Without going through the litany of evidence, our state was the only Western state to be found on United Van Lines’ list of “top-outbound” states. And, while the US as a whole grew by an anemic 2.2% during the year, New Mexico grew by a downright pitiful 0.2%. Texas grew by 4.8%.

As the end of 2013 nears, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that 2013 is not looking to be much better.

According to the report, the state’s labor force participation rate, a measure of how many working-age residents are employed or looking for work, was the fourth-worst in the nation in October. And, between April and October, the state lost 20,382 jobs, or 2.4 percent, and nearly 24,000 labor force participants.

To top it all off, According to CoreLogic, New Mexico was the only state to show a decline in home prices from October 2012 through October 2013.

According to a report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, New Mexico is both the most reliant state on federal employment and has become even more so in recent years having lost more private sector jobs between 2007-2012 than all but eight states.

New Mexico has always been a relatively poor state, but it has not faced such a depressing economic outlook relative to the mildly-optimistic national outlook for at least two decades. What is to be done?

The Rio Grande Foundation has done groundbreaking research on New Mexico’s economy and is on record as supporting pro-growth tax reforms that address the massive disincentives for work and business formation in New Mexico’s tax code. We support adoption of a Right to Work law and broader regulatory reforms that would reduce the barriers to economic activity and employment. Lastly, we support dramatically-expanded school choice (Louisiana is a potential model) to improve workforce quality.

I certainly believe that these and other free market policies will move our state in the right direction. Other groups including Voices for Children and Think New Mexico have outlined ideas that they believe will, rightly or wrongly, spur our economy.

We have an election for Governor in 2014 and the New Mexico House is up for election as well. It is my firm belief that the poor state of New Mexico’s economy and what to do about it must be the top agenda item regardless of party affiliation.

Questions for Democrats, including the five who have entered the race for Governor, might include whether costly programs like the Richardson-era RailRunner and Spaceport are helping our hurting the economy. They also might be asked whether more regulations, more welfare, and more special interest subsidies like the one for film are really the answer to our economic woes, and why.

And, I would not let Gov. Martinez off the hook. Her significant economic development initiatives to date have involved attracting Union Pacific to Santa Theresa and a phase-down of New Mexico’s corporate income tax to 5.9% that will be completed by 2018. Obviously, these efforts alone have not done enough to improve our economic competitiveness.

I’d further ask Martinez what specific economic policy changes are needed to turn New Mexico around and why she hasn’t already introduced these reform ideas. Is political opposition from a hostile Legislature a stumbling block to even considering more dramatic reforms?

New Mexico is a beautiful state with a unique culture, but poverty has real, negative consequences for all of us. It is time to have an honest, far-reaching debate on our poor economic performance, our lack of a private sector, and our overreliance on Washington.

Our future depends on it.

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 RailRunner Transportation

Passenger Rail Not Worth Big Subsidies it Requires


The tremendous costs of the Rail Runner were outlined in grave detail recently in the Journal. Annual costs are currently about $50 million between operations and payments on the original infrastructure. A portion of these costs are currently being shifted to the federal taxpayer, but there is nothing “sustainable” about the Rail Runner’s long-term finances.

New Mexico taxpayers will face significant additional financial burdens if the Legislature and Governor decide to spend taxpayer dollars to keep both the Rail Runner and federally-owned Amtrak trains heading down the tracks here in New Mexico.

Worse, what Washington gives us in the form of operating subsidies, it can also take away. New federal regulations costing up to $30 million are being imposed by Washington on the entire railroad industry, including the Rail Runner. Those costs which were completely unexpected will be borne directly by New Mexico taxpayers above and beyond the current operating subsidies which themselves come to nearly $20 per passenger, per trip.

And then there is Amtrak. The federally-owned passenger network receives over a billion dollars annually in taxpayer subsidies. Now, it is asking for up to $200 million – a significant portion of which the passenger rail network is hoping will come from New Mexico taxpayers – in order to improve tracks through New Mexico that are owned by the BNSF railroad. Outside of the Northeast, Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks it runs on; rather it demands use of tracks owned by private-sector freight railroads.

Rail advocates will undoubtedly tout the supposed benefits of having Amtrak service in our state, but the reality is that Amtrak is barely a drop in the bucket when it comes to our transportation network. How often, dear reader, do you pick visiting friends and family up from the train station?

Neither the Rio Grande Foundation, nor other free market transportation analysts who criticize publicly-owned and managed projects like the Rail Runner and Amtrak, hate trains.

Advocates often charge that roads are subsidized, so there is nothing wrong with subsidizing trains. The scale of subsidies is totally different. Roads are subsidized at .5 cents per passenger mile while transit receives 61 cents per passenger mile nationally. Roads may not pay for themselves completely, but they receive few subsidies compared to costly projects like the Rail Runner and Amtrak.

It is not that trains can’t make money. BNSF made over $20 billion in profits during 2012 with little in the way of government subsidies. Nonetheless, I would be outraged if BNSF or any other railroad operator came to the New Mexico Legislature asking for taxpayer dollars to pad their bottom line. There’s no reason not to hold Amtrak and the Rail Runner to a similar standard.

In tough economic times with slow revenue growth, we should not divert limited taxpayer dollars from schools, needed tax reforms, and other economic development priories to fund economically superfluous passenger rail systems. How much money is the Legislature going to throw at Amtrak and the Rail Runner before saying “enough?”

To the best extent possible, all modes of transportation, including roads, should compete on an even playing field free of taxpayer subsidies. Freight rail does this successfully throughout American and has so for years while passenger rail has not.

I don’t envy Governor Martinez or legislators and the tough decisions they face when it comes to pouring more money into these systems to keep them going or cutting them off and letting them fail completely.

If there is a silver lining to all this it is that, hopefully, the next time someone starts selling massively-expensive dreams of a transformed transportation network, voters and elected officials will remember that government-led “transformations” come with steep price tags.

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 RailRunner Spaceport Tax and Budget Transportation

The Spaceport and RailRunner: When Do We Stop Digging?


How long do you keep spending money on something before you quit and cut your losses? New Mexico’s Legislature will soon face some difficult decisions as to how much taxpayer money to spend on two high profile, Richardson-era projects, the Rail Runner and the Spaceport.

Let’s start with the RailRunner. The train already costs taxpayers nearly $50 million a year in payments on the initial infrastructure and operations. That doesn’t include two balloon payments of $230 million (made in addition to operations costs) which will come due next decade.

Now, due to a new federal regulation, New Mexico taxpayer could be on the hook for another $30 million to implement a federally-required safety system for the Rail Runner. It is worth pointing out that the federal regulation behind this requirement is a huge waste. Even Cass Sunstein who was President Obama’s administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has stated during testimony in the US House that the new “Positive Train Control” regulation produced benefits that are lower than its costs.”

The fact that this regulation is an absurd waste of money is of little consolation to New Mexico taxpayers who will nonetheless be forced to pay this $30 million in addition to the ongoing costs for infrastructure and operations.

A second project that just keeps getting pricier is New Mexico’s Spaceport. Taxpayers initially spent $210 million to construct the facility in hopes of bringing a new, private space industry to the state. Unfortunately, the launch schedule of the facility’s main tenant, Virgin Galactic, has repeatedly been delayed. These delays along with costly additions to the facility have led to a nearly abject lack of positive economic activity generated by the facility and have instead caused the Spaceport to suck up even greater amounts of taxpayer money above-and-beyond the original cost.

In 2012, taxpayers spent an unexpected $7 million to extend a runway at the Spaceport that was allegedly too short for spacecraft to launch. Now, as delays continue and Virgin Galactic continues to push back expected launch dates, the Spaceport will be requesting another $6.8 million to pave the road to the facility from the South. The 23-mile road is currently an unimproved dirt road maintained by Doña Ana County. The northern road, which connects to the Spaceport via Truth or Consequences, is paved.

Lastly, in terms of the Spaceport, taxpayers are on the hook for yet another $5 to $6 million required for management and operations for each year that Virgin Galactic delays commercial flights from the southern New Mexico spaceport.

Obviously, as New Mexico’s economy continues to struggle and tax revenue growth remains slow, the Legislature faces some difficult decisions on these two projects. Are there any limits as to how much taxpayers should be expected to pay to support these facilities before we decide to abandon them or take drastic steps to cut costs? If so, when is enough, enough?

What priorities are we giving up in order to attract a manned, private space industry that has yet to take flight and a train that can never come close to breaking even at a total cost of over $1 billion (before accounting for this new federal regulation)?

While it is easy to dismiss the additional money as just another cost of these publicly-beneficial projects, from a budgetary perspective, a dollar spent on spaceports and trains is a dollar diverted from schools, tax reform, and other economic development priories.

Regardless of how the Legislature decides to move forward regarding these two projects, I hope that policymakers in Santa Fe understand realize that the embracing the basics of government is tough enough.

The painful lessons here are that hitching one’s star to “the next big thing” or spending massive amounts of taxpayer money in an effort to change transportation patterns may prove a costly gamble.

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 Public Comments and Testimony RailRunner Tax and Budget

Paul Gessing’s Testimony on Free Market Criminal Justice Reforms

Testimony Before Courts, Corrections, and Justice Interim Committee
Friday, August 23rd, 9am, Room 322

Rep. Gail Chasey, Co-Chair
Sen. Richard C. Martinez, Co-Chair


Good morning Madame and Mr. Co-Chair, members of the Committee. My name is Paul Gessing, I’m President of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market public research institute or think tank. We’re based in Albuquerque, NM. Thank you for inviting me to participate in this hearing.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert on criminal justice issues. That said, criminal justice issues are by definition economic issues. New Mexico’s economic policies are the bread and butter issues of my organization. Criminal justice policies impact the economy in three major ways:

1. Direct spending on the criminal justice system including everything from police to prisons;

2. Foregone revenues including everything from potential taxes paid (or not paid) by those who are incarcerated or unable to find work due to their criminal records to the economic potential to tax drugs like marijuana;

3. Lost economic growth due to crime/inadequate public safety.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on criminal justice issues, I am one of the original signatories of the Right on Crime statement of principles. This statement has now received support from 54 conservative leaders across the nation.

The basic premise is that the traditional “lock em up” mentality that has historically dominated conservative thinking on crime is too expensive and lacking in effectiveness to continue without a serious re-evaluation of the goals, tactics, and fiscal implications of our criminal justice policies.


To be clear, New Mexico is historically not a state that has followed conservative criminal justice policies. Incarceration rates, for example, are far lower here than they are in most surrounding states. That does not mean that New Mexico policymakers are doing everything right or as cost-effectively as possible, it just means that “lock em up” has not been the criminal justice model in New Mexico as it has been in Texas, for example. That also doesn’t mean that policymakers in our state can’t learn something from what other states are doing on criminal justice issues.

Let’s start with some data. I have provided the Committee with a regional breakdown of the 2012 Peace Index which is put together by an organization called Vision of Humanity. The most notable aspect of this data for New Mexico is the high rates of homicides and violent crime (and relatively low rates of incarceration, lower than any state in the region besides Utah).

The crime problem in New Mexico is not limited to violent crime. According to 2011 data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, New Mexico has relatively high rates of property crime relative to the rest of the region. Notably, the entire southwest region has relatively high rates of most crimes.

Personally, as a resident of Albuquerque’s West Side, I can attest to the fact that crime can be a blot on life in New Mexico. Having lived for 8.5 years in Washington, DC and its inner-suburbs with no problems, I have witnessed a drive by shooting in my neighborhood and our car has been broken into as well. One of my former employees, Paige McKenzie was beaten within an inch of her life on the side of a road in Bernalillo.

My family and I love New Mexico and can’t see moving, but more timid souls might have simply left. This is lost talent and lost economic activity for our businesses and our economy. Worse, those people tell their friends and put their message on social media. Word spreads.

But I’m not here to say we need to spend more money on criminal justice or even that hiring more police is the answer. Rather, I think we need to re-deploy resources to improve our justice system in ways that keep violent offenders behind bars, rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated, keep those who are not real threats in the workforce and involved with their families, and reduce contact with the criminal justice system among those who have no need to be involved in it at all.

There are some specific ways to reduce crime and/or reduce the costs of criminal justice at the same time. These have been outlined in Rio Grande Foundation policy papers including the 2009 “Criminal Justice Policy in New Mexico: Keys to Controlling Costs and Protecting Public Safety” and an opinion piece “Reforms can cut costs, improve public safety.”

1. Drug Courts: New Mexico has 853 inmates incarcerated for drug possession.

Drug courts are a proven alternative to incarceration for low level drug offenders. Drug courts offer intensive judicial oversight of offenders combined with mandatory drug testing and escalating sanctions for failure to comply. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, the average recidivism rate for those who complete drug court is between 4 percent and 29 percent, in contrast to 48 percent for those who do not participate in a drug court program. Similarly, the General Accounting Office reported recidivism reductions of 10 to 30 percentage points below the comparison group.

A 2006 California study found drug courts cost less than $3,000 per participant, far cheaper than prison.12 New Mexico has 35 drug courts in 25 of 33 counties, which have processed 9,500 offenders since 1994. The recidivism rate of New Mexico drug courts is 11.9 percent. A New Mexico Sentencing Commission study of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan DWI Drug Court found graduates were one-third as likely to recidivate as comparable offenders who did not participate in the drug court.13 As recommended in the June 2008 report by Governor Bill Richardson’s Task Force on Prison Reform, New Mexico can benefit further from the expansion of drug courts.

If we assume that half of these drug possession offenders should not be eligible for diversion from prison because they had large quantities of drugs that are associated with dealing or have too many prior offenses, New Mexico could still save $13.2 million based on the state’s $31,000 annual per-prisoner cost of incarceration.

2. Another source of potentially significant savings lies in diverting from prison probationers and parolees who are revoked for technical violations of their supervision, not new offenses. In 2008, there were 413 such revocations to prison. Instead, New Mexico could use a graduated sanctions matrix that relies more on intermediate sanctions such as curfews, electronic monitoring, supervised work crews, and short periods of incarceration in county jails. If this diverted just half of this pool of offenders, it would save $6.4 million.

3. Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), otherwise known as pre-booking diversion:

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion identifies low-level drug offenders for whom probable cause exists for an arrest and redirects them from jail and prosecution by immediately providing linkages to treatment and social supports including harm reduction and intensive case management. By diverting eligible individuals to services, LEAD is committed to improving public safety and public order, and reducing the criminal behavior of people who participate in the program.

4. Research has proven that treatment is effective. In Arizona which also implemented this policy more than a decade ago, a study by the Arizona Supreme Court found that 77 percent of drug offenders got clean as a result of the treatment. The national Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Survey of 10,000 participants found that residential treatment resulted in a 50 percent reduction in drug use and 61 percent reduction in crime while outpatient treatment resulted in a 50 percent reduction in drug use and 37 percent reduction in crime. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), stated, “Research findings show unequivocally that drug treatment works and that this is true even for individuals who enter treatment under legal mandate.”

Performance-Based Probation Funding: In December 2008, Arizona implemented 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.

Unlike Arizona, New Mexico has one unified, statewide probation and parole department. The Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project recommends that a performance based probation funding system appropriate 30 percent of savings from a reduced revocation rate to the department and an additional 5 percent if the department demonstrates improvement in employment, drug test results, and victim restitution collection. Although results of Arizona’s measure are not yet available, Ohio adopted a somewhat similar funding policy called RECLAIM

(Reasoned and Equitable Community and Local Alternative to Incarceration of Minors) that gives money to counties that treat juveniles who would otherwise be incarcerated and deducts funds for low-risk juveniles who are sent to state facilities. The policy has been highly successful, as the recidivism rate for moderate risk youth placed through RECLAIM was 22 percent, compared with a
54 percent rate for such offenders in state lockups.

5. New Mexico can also join 36 other states by implementing a policy to release geriatric inmates who are no longer a danger to the public. Such inmates are even more expensive to incarcerate due to health care costs.

Based on Oklahoma’s experience, 17 infirm New Mexico inmates could be released every year on geriatric parole with savings of $844,594, which assumes a higher $50,000 incarceration cost per year that is supported by research on geriatric inmate medical costs. Geriatric inmates have a recidivism rate of less than five percent and not a single participant in Oklahoma’s model program has committed a new offense.

6. Finally, more halfway houses would provide an alternative for the 130 inmates who have been paroled but \await release because they lack housing. A halfway house costs only $25 a day, while prison is $85 a day. Assuming 120 days of time at a halfway house instead of prison, this policy would save $936,000.

7. Some other reforms would provide long-term benefits by making it more likely that ex-offenders will become productive members of society rather than career criminals going through prison’s revolving door. Currently, 41 percent of New Mexico probationers and parolees are employed. Employed ex-offenders are three times less likely to re-offend. One barrier to employment is that New Mexico employers have been held liable for negligent hiring of employees with questionable backgrounds.

The Urban Institute noted, “The high probability of losing coupled with the magnitude of settlement awards suggest that fear of litigation may substantially deter employers from hiring applicants with criminal history records.” That fear is not without basis. Employers lose 72 percent of negligent hiring cases with an average settlement of more than $1.6 million. New Mexico can address this by immunizing employers from such suits – suits should be permitted for failure to supervise but not merely for hiring an ex-offender.

8. Barriers for Nonviolent Ex-Offenders to Obtain Occupational Licenses: Under the New Mexico Criminal Offender Employment Act, even convictions not directly related to the occupation are grounds for ineligibility. One solution is to allow ex-offenders to obtain provisional licenses that are valid for a shorter period of time and subject to immediate revocation if they commit a new offense, violate a term of probation or parole, or violate a rule of the occupation. Such provisional licenses provide a positive incentive for success while still holding the ex offender accountable.

Texas lawmakers enacted House Bill 963 in 2009 authorizing provisional licenses. The legislation specifies that a provisional license becomes a permanent license after six months if the license holder is in full compliance.

The Rio Grande Foundation has done considerable work on the issue of occupational licenses. While we’d love to see a reduction in their number, scope, and expense, the very least we can do from a criminal justice standpoint is to not throw up additional barriers in front of ex-offenders.

9. Use of Private Facilities. The recent decline in New Mexico’s prison population coupled with the potential of many the proposals outlined here for controlling the demand for prison beds should render the current capacity adequate. However, to the extent new capacity is needed at some point, expanding an existing private prison would be the most economical solution. Private prisons are proven to be less costly to operate.

A Rio Grande Foundation study examined per-prisoner department of corrections budgets across 46 states and found that states with at least 5 percent of their prison population in private prisons spent about $4,804 less per prisoner in 2001 than states without any private prisons.

The study further found that cost savings increase along with the percentage of inmates in private facilities. For example, New Mexico was calculated to save more than $50 million as a result of having 45 percent of its inmates in private prisons. Similarly, a December 2007 study by Vanderbilt University researchers found that states with a higher percentage of inmates in private facilities had lower public prison costs per inmate, suggesting that competition drives efficiencies in state-run prisons.

10. On this point, I want to clarify that the views here are my own and those of the Rio Grande Foundation, not Right on Crime. According to Harvard Economist Jeffrey Miron who visited New Mexico earlier this year, completely legalizing and taxing marijuana would result in total savings/revenue increase of $52 million annually. $33 million of that would come from reduced expenditures. Were New Mexico to tax marijuana at a reasonable rate that maximized profits, it would collect approximately $19 million annually. In essence, we could pay the total operating and infrastructure costs of the RailRunner and have a few million left over for those balloon payments coming down the road.

Barring such an aggressive approach, it is certainly worth considering HB 465 as introduced by Rep. Kane and passed the House during the 2013 legislative session. The Fiscal Impact Report for the bill was inconclusive in terms of cost-savings, but they would seem to be significant.


I have laid out for you 10 points on criminal justice issues that could be considered by those of all political stripes when dealing with criminal justice issues.

Each of these proposals, if adopted, would:

• Reduce direct spending on the criminal justice system including everything from police to prisons;

• Increase potential taxes paid into the system;

• Reduce lost economic growth due to serious crime issues/inadequate public safety.

I hope you’ll carefully consider these ideas and consider them in a bi-partisan manner.