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Some quick facts before the 2021 legislative session kicks off

As the first-ever “virtual” New Mexico legislative session kicks off we believe it is important for New Mexico policymakers to have some basic information about New Mexico’s economy.

  1. New Mexico tax burdens are not low relative to neighboring states. The chart below is from the Federation of Tax Administrators. With far heavier tax burdens than its neighbors, New Mexico’s tax burden ranks 7th-heaviest among states.
  1. According to the website US Government Spending state and local spending in New Mexico is far higher than in neighboring states as a percentage of the state economy (GDP). The data are constantly being updated, but New Mexico consistently has the biggest-spending state and local governments in the US.
  1. When it comes to raising the minimum wage, mandatory paid sick leave, or a variety of other economic policies, New Mexico lags dramatically. The data in the Fraser Institute analysis below is from 2018 which is the final year of Susana Martinez’ time in office. New Mexico desperately needs MORE economic freedom, not less.

4.. We already know New Mexico is among the poorest states in the US. If the Legislature is serious about reducing poverty and improving outcomes for children and the rest of the population (regardless of race or gender) it needs to have a serious conversation about economic freedom issues. like taxes and regulations.

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Economy Film Subsidies Legislature Notable News Oil & Gas Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

Netflix Fueled by Oil and Gas in New Mexico

The following appeared at National Review’s website on December 25, 2020

We have known for decades the extent to which progressives dominate Hollywood. In the age of social media, Hollywood celebrities waste no opportunity to show that they stand with the poor, the downtrodden, and the righteous. But they have a way of showing themselves up as the hypocrites we already know that they are.

Let’s start with “fracking.” Fact: a few years ago, more than 100 Hollywood A-listers signed on to an effort under the banner of Artists Against Fracking to ban hydraulic fracturing. Yet it’s no secret that many of Hollywood’s numerous well-heeled opponents of “fracking” have something of a weakness for private planes and, even in their humbler moments, for large SUVs. It’s not much of an exaggeration to think that some of them probably gobble up more energy in a day than average Americans do in weeks.

But without hydraulic-fracturing technology, oil and gas production in my home state of New Mexico would almost completely dry up. This industry has made New Mexico a major energy producer, a crucial source of revenue and jobs for a state widely recognized as one of the poorest in the country. Fracking has safely opened massive new energy deposits with production concentrated in the Permian Basin, located in southeast New Mexico and shared with Texas. In fact, New Mexico is the third-largest oil-producing state, with over 1 million barrels per day at the end of 2019One-third of the state’s entire budget is generated by the industry.

Too bad. If the nation follows the advice of Hollywood’s anti-fracking activists, a poor state and its poor residents will be denied the benefits of an important natural resource and simply go without. While fracking remains legal (for now) in New Mexico, Hollywood’s hypocrisy goes far beyond merely advocating against this technology: some of its leading companies have found a way to suck up tax revenues right here in New Mexico that would otherwise be spent on public schools, health care, and other government services.

In an effort to attain the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, New Mexico’s liberal politicians are handing out some of the most generous subsidies available anywhere to Hollywood film companies. That those companies tend to lean liberal is, of course, only a coincidence.

Netflix is the latest production company to bring significant operations to the Land of Enchantment. The streaming company recently announced that it would expand its operations in the state, spending an additional $1 billion in New Mexico over the next 10 years.

That sounds good, but however liberal it may be, the entertainment industry is still the entertainment industry, and the deal comes with a catch. Netflix may be spending in the state, but it will also be receiving a very generous incentive from the New Mexico taxpayer, something of an irony when one-third of the state’s taxes are paid by “wicked” oil and gas.

Netflix (like any film company that operates in New Mexico) is eligible to have 25 percent of its expenses reimbursed by the State. Better yet, the length of the company’s ten-year lease means it “qualifies” under state law to receive an increased reimbursement of 30 percent.

Just to be clear, if Netflix does indeed spend $1 billion over the next decade as it asserts, it could be entitled to checks from the New Mexico Treasury totaling $300 million. If 33.5 percent of New Mexico’s budget comes from oil and gas over that time period, Netflix alone will effectively be receiving $100 million directly from the oil and gas industry.

Of course, if the “keep-it-in-the-ground” wing of the Democratic Party prevails and bans fracking on New Mexico’s federal lands, the state’s oil and gas revenues could plummet, forcing the State’s other taxpayers to pick up more of the bill for Netflix or triggering some sort of crisis in its relationship with the company

Unfortunately, when it comes to subsidies for Netflix, $300 million is just the down payment. The state is also fronting another $17 million in direct incentives to Netflix while the City of Albuquerque is coughing up another $7 million. These funds come from something called the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA), commonly referred to as a “closing fund.” These are payments made by state or local governments to preferred industries. One might believe that in a state as poor as New Mexico (consistently among the nation’s poorest) that taxpayers picking up the bill for 30 percent of a profitable corporation’s business expenses would be enough.

As things seem at the moment, Netflix is going to continue to grow and over time it should create more jobs in New Mexico. That will generate all the usual headlines about how great the company is for the state and its economy, but it will come at a tremendous cost. That cost is not just in lost revenue, but in tax rebates borne primarily by state taxpayers. This subsidy is both unfair and unsustainable.

As one of Hollywood’s biggest businesses, Netflix is a member of that elite group of publicly traded stocks known as the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google). Netflix flaunts its rapidly growing profitability, but it is still prepared to consume massive taxpayer subsidies not only from one of the poorest states in the country, but from a state that can only afford to pay out those generous subsidies thanks to the revenues it receives from the oil and gas industry that so much of Hollywood condemns.

Senator Bernie Sanders is still a hero to many in the entertainment industry and, to be fair, he at least takes a principled approach to such corporate welfare. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many in Hollywood and Democratic politicians like New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. She has locked our state in to paying Netflix outrageous sums of money over the next decade at a time of great uncertainty for New Mexico and its economic outlook and thrown away the key. That much of that uncertainty comes from her own party only piles irony upon irony.

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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A brief Rio Grande Foundation Analysis of PFM report on New Mexico’s tax structure (Part 2)

Yesterday we said we’d get an analysis of the PFM report on New Mexico’s tax code. As indicated in that post, there is some good information in the report even though we disagree with many of its findings. One of the best points made is the following which is taken directly from the report:Too often the only “equity” discussion that takes place is over “progressive” or “regressive” taxation. The PFM report acknowledges that New Mexico’s gross receipts tax is unfair to competing businesses within the same industries. As the text above points out this bias assists bigger firms and penalizes smaller ones.

Overall, the analysts seemed concern about the gross receipts and specifically argued for NOT raising rates on that tax. Unfortunately, that’s where the restraint went out the window. The report FAILED to mention New Mexico’s heavy (existing) tax burden (7th-highest as a percent of income) and bloated and inefficient government, yet it included numerous MAJOR tax hikes and NO tax cuts. The tax hikes mentioned included:

  • Higher marginal rates at higher income levels.
  • Eliminating the capital gains personal income tax exemption.
  • Re-institute an estate tax.
  • Increase the gas tax rate.
  • Establish a structure for taxing recreational marijuana (we support the policy, but of course this is still more government revenue).
  • Broaden the gross receipts tax base to include food and, for lower income taxpayers while enacting a revenue neutral refundable personal income tax credit.
  • Continue to expand excise taxes to align with new forms of goods or services, such as vapor products.
  • Consider a carbon tax or so-called “market-based approaches.”

While there are elements of some of these ideas that could be part of a broad-based, revenue-neutral tax reform plan, including “shifting greater local funding responsibility to property taxes and away from gross receipts taxes” the report is WAY too focused on generating more money for the State and focuses far too little on spurring economic growth and job creation.

Finally, although the overall report is lacking, one additional bit of good news is that PFM specifically calls out film subsidies. Again, the full text is below directly from the report:

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A brief Rio Grande Foundation Analysis of PFM report on New Mexico’s tax structure (Part 1)

Yesterday, a report called “State of New Mexico Tax Structure: Issues and Alternatives”was released by a firm called PFM Consulting. The report is worthy of a detailed analysis and it has generated several stories in the media.  

A few initial thoughts: 1) I’m glad they posted the report at a link that can be easily-accessed by the public and policymakers. 2) As these documents go it is relatively accessible in terms of its language. 3) Taxes are a very important component of public policy, BUT they are one of several policy areas that must be addressed to make New Mexico economically competitive. 4) Analysts and legislators of differing backgrounds can view the same data and have completely different conclusions. While the media have covered some reactions from policymakers, we will offer our insights in a 2nd post to be published tomorrow (December 17).

Here are a few charts taken directly from the report which illustrate New Mexico’s serious economic challenges:

  1. Over the last decade New Mexico’s neighbors saw much faster employment growth although we did outperform Alaska and Wyoming which the report includes by way of further comparison.

2. New Mexico faces deeper poverty challenges than any of its neighbors or Wyoming/Alaska.

3. Related to poverty, New Mexico’s median incomes lag.

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New Mexico’s Netflix ‘Deal’ A Blow To State’s Finances

This article appeared in the Roswell Daily-Record on December 15, 2020 and in several other New Mexico newspapers.

New Mexico remains among the most locked down states in the nation when it comes to the CoronaVirus. In October the State’s unemployment rate was among the highest in the nation at 8.1%. This difficult economic news combined with the election of a more “progressive” Legislature in November mean that tax increases (and even spending cuts) are likely in store for the upcoming 2021 legislative session. With New Mexico relying heavily on oil and gas revenues, the State’s economic pain will last beyond the coming year.

A new deal announced by Gov. Lujan Grisham with the well-known streaming service Netflix is being touted as good news for New Mexico’s economy. In announcing the deal the Gov. claimed, “My administration has expanded our state’s competitive film incentives, facilitating higher-wage employment for New Mexicans all across the state.” Under the terms of the deal, Netflix will dramatically-expand their footprint in the State spending $1 billion over the next decade.

Unfortunately, despite all the hype and big-sounding numbers, the Netflix deal is just another example of New Mexico’s economically-ignorant political leadership “buying” jobs and economic activity with taxpayer money. The reality is that New Mexico’s already strapped budgets will be drained even more in the years ahead by this new plan to subsidize Hollywood.

Something that too few in the media do is look closely at the particulars of the deal itself. For example: the State offers a 25% film “tax credit” which is really a rebate of 25% of the costs of production. Netflix is able to boost that rebate by another 5% since they are considered a “qualified” production facility. That means taxpayers will reimburse Netflix for 30% of their spending in NM. According to a new report from the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) states that film subsidy payouts could increase annual tax credit payouts by $25 million beginning next fiscal year.

Lest there be any doubt that film subsidies actually cost the State and its taxpayers money, a separate 2019 LFC report noted, “Because film tax credit payouts are booked to Corporate Income Tax (CIT), actual CIT receipts are higher than the final amounts distributed to the general fund.” These subsidies take corporate tax dollars right out of the State Treasury and hand them to film companies.

“Tax credits” are just the starting point. Additionally, the State is providing $17 million in LEDA incentives; the City of Albuquerque is providing another $7 million in LEDA, and they will also provide an industrial revenue bond to abate some or all property taxes over a 20-year term for the first $500 million investment to build out the facility.

In total Netflix will receive $300 million + $17 million + $7 million + the IRB tax abatement to eliminate their property taxes.

Finally, even though NM has an annual cap on film tax rebate expenditures, the legislation exempted companies that purchase or sign a 10-year lease for a qualified production facility: this means the cap does not apply to Netflix.

In other words, Netflix is definitely going to grow and appear to create more jobs in New Mexico (which will make a lot of headlines), but it will do so at taxpayer expense. That cost is not just in lost revenue, but in actual spending. Those costs, generated through the tax credit, really a rebate, are borne primarily by State taxpayers. This subsidy is both unfair AND unsustainable.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has now locked us in to paying Netflix outrageous sums of money over the next decade at a time of great uncertainty for New Mexico families and the state’s economic outlook.

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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Educational Retirement Board (ERB) divestment decision foolish

Recently, New Mexico’s Educational Retirement Board (ERB) made the decision to divest itself from private prisons. Supporters of such a move have painted such companies in a very negative light with little justification.

Patrick Brenner, a policy analyst with the Rio Grande Foundation, submitted the following letter to the Albuquerque Journal. It was published on Monday, November 16, 2020.


I read the guest column, “ERB right to help dismantle unjust prison system,” published in the Albuquerque Journal on Nov. 8 and feel compelled to offer a response. The author is certainly entitled to her opinions about the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board’s decision to divest from private prisons, but she appears to be unclear on some of her facts.

The family separation mentioned in the column is a serious issue, but GEO does not manage any shelters or facilities housing unaccompanied minors, nor does it run any border patrol holding facilities along the U.S. southwest border.

What GEO does do is provide safe and humane residential care, including at the modern immigration Processing Centers it manages for the federal government that feature amenities such as artificial turf soccer fields, flat screen TVs in living areas, and indoor and outdoor recreation. These amenities are not usually available in government-operated facilities.

Unfortunately, the divestment campaign is based on an incorrect narrative and a mischaracterization of the role of GEO and other private contractors in this field who ultimately must answer to federal and state governments who are both their customers and regulate the terms of their contracts.

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New Mexico needs economic reform, not tax hikes

A recent report from the Pew Center determined that New Mexico had the fourth highest volatility in tax revenue collection over the past 20 years. Unsurprisingly, the study cited reliance on oil and gas revenues as the likely cause of this volatility. What the study didn’t consider was the fact that New Mexico’s misguided economic policies actually reinforce our reliance on oil revenues.

Over the years New Mexico has developed mechanisms like the “rainy day fund” and permanent funds (these are two different things) to help smooth the ups and downs inherently associated with rising and falling oil and gas prices and production.

It has been well-documented that New Mexico has risen to be the 3rd-largest oil producing state in the nation. We often forget that Texas remains the largest oil producer at more than six times the amount produced here in New Mexico, yet Texas, as the report noted, “ranked close to the middle of states for overall revenue volatility.”

Why is that? Simply put, Texas is less reliant on oil and gas than is New Mexico as a percentage of its overall budget. Again, according to Pew, “severance tax accounted for 7.5% of Texas’ total tax collections over the past decade.” That is a far more comfortable position to be in than New Mexico’s reliance for 40% of its budget from oil and gas.

These are all pretty widely-agreed upon facts among New Mexico policymakers and thought leaders. This is where things get tricky.

Democrats, especially their more “progressive” wing (now dominant in the Legislature) seem ready to eliminate oil and gas entirely without much in the way of a plan for how to fund New Mexico government. Long-time “progressive” Albuquerque-based Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino argued in an op-ed this year that New Mexico should “go cold turkey” to stop our “addiction” to oil and gas. Gov. Lujan Grisham recently echoed those sentiments in a webcast with the US Climate Alliance, saying “New Mexico should transition out of fossil fuels.”

Those sound like nice goals to many environmentalists, but aside from raising taxes on a massive scale, how do you fund State government? That question is left unanswered.

According to NMSU professor Jim Peach, New Mexico faces not one, but two threats: 1) the short-term effects of reduced revenues and slower economic growth from the lockdown; 2) the longer-term challenge of replacing oil as a funding mechanism for state government.

Rather than killing the oil industry (or seeing revenues from it decline rapidly due to depressed demand) and then frantically looking to find a replacement, the Gov. and Legislature need to use the 2021 session to enact long-overdue reforms like GRT reform that CAN make us more competitive. Texas has no income tax and is a “right to work” state. It is known to be business-friendly and consistently scores well in state rankings on such issues. New Mexico, on the other hand, is rightly perceived as being rather hostile to business. And, the gross receipts tax is unfair and riddled with breaks for special-interests.

One issue that is sure to come up in 2021 is tax hikes. Professor Peach and others have mentioned them with an air of inevitability. Tempting as they may be, tax hikes will make us even less competitive with Texas and other states as a destination for jobs and economic growth. Given the gulf between New Mexico and Texas in terms of economic competitiveness it is no surprise that the Federation of Tax Administrators ranks New Mexico as having the 7th-heaviest tax burden while Texas is among the lowest at 47th.

Ironically, if New Mexico were to streamline government, truly make the state attractive for business, and thus diversify its economy, like Texas, New Mexico’s economy and tax revenues wouldn’t be as volatile. Unfortunately, we have a very long way to go to make that happen.

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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RGF’s Paul Gessing discusses State contact tracing contract w/ company being sued in Texas

The Lujan Grisham Administration has contracted with a company that has been involved in a lawsuit for not fulfilling its end of a contract with the State of Texas. Click on the story below to watch:

https://www.kob.com/new-mexico-news/software-company-used-for-contract-tracing-in-nm-involved-in-lawsuit-in-texas/5889727/

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New Mexico’s Lockdown is Having an Impact

The following article appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on September 25, 2020. It also appeared in several other New Mexico based outlets.

According to the latest unemployment figures (for August), New Mexico’s unemployment rate is 11.3 percent. Only 5 states, all of them locked-down “blue” states, have worse rates. And, there is a distinct pattern in which only such states have unemployment rates in the double digits.

Interestingly, the performance of those states when it comes to deaths from COVID-19 (the cause of the lockdowns) is statistically all over the place. Notably, New Mexico is right in the middle nationwide when it comes to saving its citizens from the worst impacts of the virus. Some of the worst-economic performing states (New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts) have also been pummeled by the virus that has affected all of us. Hawaii and California, on the other hand, have been locked down and face major unemployment issues, but have performed relatively well insofar as the virus is concerned.

The case for locking down state economies and demanding entire states like New Mexico remain shut and healthy people quarantine themselves will be studied for years to come. The relationship between aggressive lockdowns and success in reducing the virus are questionable at best. Similar studies will also undoubtedly be needed with regard to the social and academic impacts of keeping children at home and attempting to have them learn in an exclusively virtual environment while also being locked out of most normal youth activities.

What we do know is that New Mexico’s economy is suffering. Large parts of our economy (including most tourism venues and all entertainment centers) have been shut down by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham since March. This is starting to have a big impact on our economy.

The most notable illustration of that impact are high unemployment rates. In February, before the COVID-19 outbreak began, Utah’s unemployment rate was an amazingly low 2.5 percent. New Mexico’s was a respectable 4.8 percent. Utah’s rate has since jumped to 4.1 percent, but that remains far better than New Mexico’s elevated rate. And, while it is easy to get caught up in rates and numbers, it cannot be forgotten that these are real jobs and livelihoods that are being impacted. Hundreds of New Mexico businesses have closed due to the governor’s lockdown.

Worse, during the Q&A period at the end her news conference on Sept. 17, Lujan Grisham was asked about reopening bars, entertainment venues, and theaters.

Her response was that many such venues will not reopen until there is a vaccine. Unfortunately, no one knows when a vaccine will be available, but current estimates are that one will be coming by the second or third quarter of 2021. That means that numerous New Mexico businesses, many of which have been shut down since March, may not open until April or even as late as October 2021.

Most New Mexicans, especially small businesses, cannot hang on that long. And, traditional New Mexico events, from Bataan Death March commemorations to the Gathering of Nations and even the 2021 State Fair and Balloon Fiesta simply cannot be canceled for a second consecutive year.

We must deal with both the virus AND the economic impacts it is having on our state. We shouldn’t expect Washington to go even further into debt to bail us out. And the governor simply can’t keep large portions of New Mexico’s economy (including tourism) locked down until a vaccine is widely available.

A federal judge threw out Pennsylvania’s lockdown, saying, in part, “The Constitution cannot accept the concept of a ‘new normal’ where the basic liberties of the people can be subordinated to open-ended emergency mitigation measures. Rather, the Constitution sets certain lines that may not be crossed, even in an emergency.”

When they head to the polls to vote this November, New Mexicans must balance the economy and constitutional liberties along with well-intended attempts to overcome the virus.

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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RGF recent radio appearances

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

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