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2022 Freedom Index Results Published

The Rio Grande Foundation uses its “Freedom Index” vote tracking site to  hold New Mexico legislators accountable for their stances on individual freedom and personal liberty. We have rated all bills that impact individual freedom that received floor votes for the 2022 session and thus the current Index results are “final.”

Every bill receiving a score is rated on a scale from -8 through +8 depending on its overall impact on YOUR personal freedom. In the 2022 session the most impactful vote (-8) was on SB 14, the Clean Fuel Standard. A full analysis of that bill can be found here.

The BEST bill voted on this session was HB 163, that is the bill which includes several tax cuts (RGF analysis of that bill here). It received a +4 rating in the Index.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R) who represents parts of the East Mountains of Albuquerque scored a 45 which was the highest rating of the session.

Rep. Randall Pettigrew (R) who represents Lea County scored a 43 which was good for the 2nd-highest rating of the session.

Sen. Craig Brandt (R) who represents Rio Rancho scored 33 which was the highest rating for any senator (the Senate and House vote on different bills and the House typically takes more votes and thus has higher and lower scores).

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez (D) who represents parts of Albuquerque scored -66 which was the lowest rating for any member of the Legislature.

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RGF opinion piece: Session could have been a lot worse

The following appeared in several newspapers in the wake of New Mexico’s 2022 legislative session including the Carlsbad Current-Argus on February 23, 2022.

The 2022 30-day legislative session could have been much worse. It is no secret that we at the Rio Grande Foundation have disagreed with most of Michelle Lujan Grisham’s major efforts as Governor. She surprised many of us in her State of the State speech when she proposed elimination of the Social Security tax in New Mexico.

After three years of ruling as a hard left “progressive,” the Governor’s change of tune heading into the 2022 session was notable. Is her move solely due to her impending reelection? We’ll never know, but it is a welcome shift.

The most notable good legislation that passed this session was the tax cuts (HB 163). Unfortunately, the Social Security tax was not completely eliminated, but it will no longer apply to a vast majority of taxpayers. As a bonus, military pensioners received a break on their pensions for at least the next 5 years.

The State gross receipts tax rate will be cut under the tax reform package (barring a drop in state revenues) and a small child tax credit was added. Finally, the Legislature acknowledged that gross receipts tax pyramiding on business-to-business service inputs is a problem, but they only addressed the issue for manufacturers.

These tax cuts, if fully enacted, will reduce tax revenues by $400 million or so annually, are dwarfed by the massive increase in government spending. Spending rose by $1 billion this year alone.

All of this is thanks (mostly) to the booming oil and gas industry which shows no sign of slowing down, but money being printed up in Washington also played a role. Of course, while the Gov. will tout the raises for government employees in general and teachers specifically, with the current rate of inflation, those raises won’t be as helpful to families’ bottom lines.

Numerous bad bills were considered during the session that (thankfully) died. Most notable among these was SB 14 the “Clean Fuel Standard.” While rising gas prices have contributed to the State’s budget surplus, for average New Mexicans high gas prices are just another sign of inflation. Given those high prices it was a shock that Lujan Grisham made it her mission to pass this legislation, which would have increased gas prices at the pump by 35 cents/gallon.

The bill became even more confusing when, in the waning days of the session, an amendment was added to keep the San Juan Generating Station coal fired plant in Farmington open through next summer. PNM which owns the plant is nervous that it won’t have enough electricity to keep the lights on when the plant closes in June to comply with Lujan Grisham’s 2019 “green new deal” legislation.

Thankfully, with only hours to go in the session, SB 14 died on a tie vote in the House.

Another bill that, thankfully, died was the so-called “election reform” bill. Starting out, this bill was SB 8 and it had straight party voting, a “permanent” absentee voter list, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote, and, most outrageously, a provision allowing mailed ballots to be collected as late as the Friday after the Election Day.

Through a series of amendments and changes the election reform bill became SB 144. It was still problematic due to the unnecessary loosening of voting rules, but it died on the Senate floor as time expired.

Plenty of bills never received a floor vote. The Democrat-dominated Legislature (again) failed to restore a seat at the table for itself in emergencies. On the positive side of things, Las Cruces Sen. Bill Soules’ absurd SB 204 which would have appropriated $1 billion as part of a down payment on a high-speed train from the border with Mexico to Colorado, went nowhere as well.

This session could have been a lot worse. But, a moderately-successful 30-day session with November’s elections staring the Gov. in the face does not an ideological shift make.

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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Las Cruces Sun-News opinion piece: It’s time to finally eliminate Social Security tax

LAS CRUCES SUN-NEWS - Downtown Las Cruces Partnership

In the wake of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address, Republican House Minority Leader State Rep. Jim Townsend, said that during the speech he thought the governor “almost became a Republican.” He’s not wrong.

After three full years and legislative sessions (not to mention multiple special sessions and the constant invocation of her “emergency” powers) of governing as a hard left “progressive,” the Gov. seems to be tacking to the center in advance of her reelection bid this fall. This may be both good policy as well as good politics.

Specifically, in her State of the State address Lujan Grisham announced that she wants New Mexico to stop taxing Social Security. New Mexico is one of just 13 states in the nation to do this and bi-partisan efforts have been made in recent years to eliminate or vastly reduce the tax.

Her support for repeal is welcome, but many “progressives” in her own party seem skeptical. As of this writing one Social Security tax repeal failed on a tie vote in the House Labor Committee. Only one Democrat and three Republicans endorsed the idea. So, Social Security tax repeal is by no means a “done deal.”

This is true even though the state has plenty of money, as evidenced by the Gov.’s ambitious budget which contains a 13.5% spending increase over last year. The $80 million or so in “lost” revenue from ending the tax is a drop in the bucket when compared with the flood of new revenues. This is a flood that seems likely to continue with high oil prices and record production in the Permian Basin. So, New Mexico has plenty of money to cut taxes. In fact, the Gov. and Legislature should be looking for ways to use this flood of new money to both cut and reform taxes in ways that help diversify the economy.

While the decision to eliminate the Social Security tax is welcome, this is not the first time the Gov. has had a large surplus (or budget increase) available. In her first year in office (2019) the budget grew by 11 percent while increasing several taxes including taxes on car sales and hospitals. Bipartisan Social Security tax elimination bills have repeatedly been proposed since then. It certainly seems like the Gov.’s decision has a heavy dose of election year politics. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is worth noting.

To her credit, the Gov. seems inclined to eliminate the Social Security tax without raising other taxes as one bill introduced this session would do. With the kind of money available, it is hard to justify raising taxes to make up for the small loss of revenue. Worse, a “revenue neutral” bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Tallman, would increase regressive tobacco taxes to make up for “lost” revenue.

Eliminating Social Security taxation should be a straight tax cut for the benefit of New Mexico seniors and those who might consider moving to New Mexico but see our State as “unwelcoming” for retirees due to our tax policies.

This legislative session is indeed an opportunity for the Legislature to “be bold” by enacting transformative policy changes. Reforming the broken gross receipts tax to eliminate taxation of services remains the very best way to do that. However, eliminating an unnecessary tax that makes New Mexico unattractive as a retirement destination is a worthwhile goal and we are hoping for the best and stand ready to support proponents of Social Security tax repeal this session.

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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Best bills of New Mexico Legislature…so far

Despite there being A LOT of bad bills in the 2022 session even with only 30 days to consider them, there ARE some good bills. Here are some of the BEST bills introduced so far. We’ll also “handicap” the likelihood that each bill will pass:

HB 40/HJR 3: Reps. Greg Nibert (R), Daymon Ely (D), Randall T. Pettigrew (R), Stefani Lord (R), and Rachel A. Black (R). This bill/amendment would place limits on the Governor (whoever that may be) and give the Legislature a “seat at the table” in future emergencies. Unfortunately, while similar bills were introduced in the 2021 session which lasted 60 days and a recent special session, this worthwhile bill which has bipartisan sponsorship has a LOW chance of passage.

HB 48/HB 49/SB 108 These bills introduced by Reps. Gail Armstrong (R), Cathrynn N. Brown (R), Randall T. Pettigrew (R) , Candie G. Sweetser (D), Rebecca Dow (R), and Sen. Padilla (D) would end taxation of Social Security under New Mexico’s personal income tax. This issue has been around for a few years, but Gov. Lujan Grisham has said that she supports eliminating the tax. We don’t know EXACTLY what she means (like if she’ll raise other taxes to do it), but these bills DO NOT offset the tax with new taxes. MODERATE chance of passage.

HB 76/SB 85  Reps. Phelps Anderson (I),  Harry Garcia (D)
T. Ryan Lane (R), Joy Garratt (D), Jane E. Powdrell-Culbert (R), and Sen. Harold Pope (D) would give a $30,000 exemption for military pensions. This bill is a worthy follow-up to the Social Security discussion, especially with New Mexico’s large number of ex-military. But, it is unlikely to happen this year. 

HB 91: Reps. Rebecca Dow (R),  Luis M. Terrazas (R),  James G. Townsend (R),  Candy Spence Ezzell, (R), and  Randall T. Pettigrew would prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory in New Mexico schools. It is unlikely to pass this year.

HJR 11: Reps. James G. Townsend (R), Ryan Lane (R), Larry Scott (R), Rod Montoya, (R), and Stefani Lord (R) would amend New Mexico’s constitution to specifically allow school funding to flow to families to choose the education option that makes sense for them which may include private schools or home school. Zero Chance of Passage until the unions no longer control New Mexico’s Legislature and Gov.

SB 5: Sen. Bobby Gonzalez (D), reduces the Gross Receipts Tax rate imposed by the State of New Mexico from 5.125% to 4.875 percent. This WAS a top priority of the Gov. prior to the session, but when she asked the Legislature to eliminate the Social Security tax in her State of the State address she seemed to shift emphasis away from reducing GRT rates. We still believe this has a High Chance of Passage.

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Here are some early contenders for worst bills of the 2022 Legislature

As of the day before the 2022 Legislature kicks off, here are some of the worst bills introduced in the session (so far). You can see the updated list of bills introduced in the session here as of January 17, 2022. More will be added. Given the large number of bills likely to be introduced, I’ll also offer a brief thought on how likely they are to pass:

HB 6, Reps. Nathan Small (D) Brian Egolf (D), Kristina Ortez (D), Sens. Siah Correa Hemphill (D), Mimi Stewart (D). Sets legislative framework for “net-zero” CO2 emissions in State of New Mexico. Likelihood of passage: High as Gov. MLG has said she wants to make New Mexico “net-zero.”

HB 11, Reps. Debra Sariñana (D) and Meredith Dixon (D). Creates a tax credit of up to $5,000 and 40% of the cost of “energy storage” systems. Likelihood of passage: High This yet another part of the push toward unreliable forms of electricity that will demand massive and costly battery storage.

HB 14, Reps. Christine Chandler (D) and Debra M. Sariñana (D). Allows local governments to issue Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRB) and gross receipts tax deductions for “energy storage” systems. Likelihood of passage: High(see above).

HB 33, Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D). Imposes massive (regressive) tax hike on tobacco consumers at a time of massive budget surpluses. Likelihood of passage: Moderate (it will hard for legislators to explain a tax hike at a time of record budget surpluses).

HB 34, Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D). Expands and extends an already-generous solar panel tax credit that disproportionately benefits wealthy New Mexicans. Likelihood of passage: High (furthers “green” agenda and benefits well-connected, wealthy solar customers and companies).

HB 71, Rep. Matthew McQueen (D) and Jason C. Harper (R). Allows taxes on residential property to rise by up to 10% ANNUALLY (as opposed to 3% currently). Likelihood of passage: Moderate (Property taxes are notoriously unpopular and it is hard to see the Legislature passing a big tax hike in an election year, even with a GOP co-sponsor).

HB 75, Rep. Sponsor Patricia Roybal Caballero (D). Sets up a state-run bank in New Mexico. New Mexico already has a robust network of banks and credit unions, the last thing it needs is a government-run and taxpayer-financed bank. Likelihood of passage: Moderate this is a concept likely to be seen as too far beyond the pale even for many Democrats.

HB 78 and HB 132 Rep. Patricial Roybal Caballero (D) is on HB 78 while HB 132 is more likely to pass and sponsored by Rep. Susan K. Herrera, Speaker Brian Egolf, Reps. Joy Garratt (D), Phelps Anderson (I) and Daymon Ely (D). Both bills create artificial limits on interest rates charged by certain lenders in New Mexico that will limit credit availability to those with poor or no credit. Likelihood of passage: High (HB 132) as this concept has numerous groups supporting and high-interest loans are misunderstood and by legislators, the media, and the population at large.

HB 126, Reps. Tara L. Lujan (D) and Pamelya Herndon (D), Creates all manner of “diversity” requirements for state government employees, creates a “Chief Diversity Officer” as well as “diversity” and “inclusion” liaisons in State government, requires an annual report on whether the State is achieving its diversity and inclusion goals. Is New Mexico State government not “woke” enough? This legislation is for you. Likelihood of passage: Moderate.

HJR 2 / SJR2 Reps. Joanne J. Ferrary (D), Tara L. Lujan (D), Gail Chasey (D), Sens. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, (D), Harold Pope (D). Purports to provide the people of New Mexico with vaguely-defined “environmental rights” includng the right to a “clean and healthy environment and the “right to protction of the environment.” The vague provisions contained in this amendment will simply result in more expensive lawsuits and unnecessary regulations. This is a Constitutional amendment and extremely vaguely worded which might scare away supporters.  Likelihood of passage: Moderate.

SB 8, Sens. Peter Wirth (D),   Katy M. Duhigg (D), Harold Pope (D) Carrie Hamblen (D), and  Rep. Javier Martínez (D) would “reform” voting in New Mexico by allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote, creating a permanent absentee voter list, and permitting people without an official state ID to register to vote online by using their full Social Security number. Likelihood of passage: High

SB 21, Sen. Bill Tallman (D), Provides a tax subsidy for electric vehicles which tend to be driven by wealthy New Mexicans and is thus “regressive.” If there is one policy area where New Mexico’s Legislature loves to pour subsidies it would be for supposed “green” initiatives. Likelihood of passage: High

SB 99, Sen. Leo Jaramillo (D), Creates a new “State Transit Fund” to further funnel money from state taxpayers to failed transit projects. This is a new idea this session, but with so much money floating around there is always reason to be concerned about new wasteful spending. Likelihood of passage: Moderate

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Gov.’s attempt to claim role of ‘tax-cutter’ laughable

The following op-ed appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News on December 28, 2021.

Recently, Gov. Lujan Grisham posted on Facebook in support of her plan for a small .25 percentage point reduction in the State’s gross receipts tax rate, saying, “Lower taxes would enable them to grow their business and hire more people, including local adults with special needs that they focus on employing – and we’re going to make it happen.”

It sounded almost like something we at the free-market Rio Grande Foundation would write and

the Gov.’s statement is true as far as it goes. While we support ANY effort to lower tax burdens on New Mexicans, Lujan Grisham’s plan for a small .25 percentage point reduction in the State’s GRT is totally inadequate and clearly driven by her coming reelection and the fact that she faces a very tough race.

According to the Gov., her plan would cut taxes by $145 million annually. But since she took office, Lujan Grisham has signed tax hikes totaling more than $250 million annually. She also conveniently omits the fact that the oil and gas industry has created a $1.6 billion surplus, the likes of which New Mexico has never seen. Clearly given the economic trials facing average New Mexicans, we deserve much more than a tiny tax cut that fails to even make up for her past tax hikes.

The very same thing the Gov. claims about lower taxes helping people grow their businesses were said in opposition to tax hikes she signed into law in 2019 (HB 6) and 2021 (SB 317). Among the tax hikes passed in these bills were hikes in personal income, motor vehicle, hospital, and health insurance taxes. Clearly, as with gross receipts taxes, much of the burden of these tax hikes is also borne by businesses and affects their ability to hire and grow their businesses.

Worse, none of these tax hikes were necessary. The 2019 tax hikes were passed at a time of record budget surpluses alongside an 11 percent budget increase. The 2021 tax hike was a blatant revenue grab. The Democrat-controlled Legislature and Gov. Lujan Grisham were presented with an opportunity to generate millions of additional tax dollars by re-imposing (and retaining the proceeds from) a federal health insurance tax that had been repealed by the Trump Administration.

Simply allowing the federal government’s health insurance tax (imposed under ObamaCare) to go away would have had the very same positive impacts on businesses and their bottom lines as any other tax reduction, but that wasn’t an election year. This is.

Directly imposing higher taxes is only one of numerous ways in which government makes doing business harder than necessary. In her time in office Lujan Grisham signed a new medical malpractice law that doctors and other medical professionals say will cause them to close or leave. The Energy Transition Act has already begun increasing electricity costs and PNM is concerned about reliability as soon as next summer due to the closure of San Juan Generating Station.

While the Gov. is busy positioning herself as a pro-business “tax cutter” she is also pushing a new “Clean Fuel Standard” that, based on a draft of the bill, would increase gasoline prices by 35 cents per gallon. Every New Mexico business and resident (even if they drive an electric vehicle) would see further price hikes above and beyond current inflation if that bill becomes law.

Sadly, the impact of these anti-business law is to keep New Mexico poor. It is no surprise that New Mexico has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation despite the massive oil and gas surplus.

Lujan Grisham’s management of New Mexico’s economy both before and throughout the Pandemic have been abysmal and her claim to be a pro-business “tax cutter” are laughable.

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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How does New Mexico stack up with big red and blue states?

Our friend Vance Ginn, Chief Economist at the Texas Public Policy Institute, recently compared his state of Texas and another prominent “red” state (Florida) with the biggest “blue” states of California and New York on a range of basic economic statistics.

You can see the data below which is loosely based on Ginn’s analysis linked above. The data are interesting to say the least.

New Mexico is definitely a “BLUE” state. It suffers from terrible workforce participation and unemployment rates and government consumes an outsized portion of our economy (even when compared with “blue” states).

Notably, New Mexico is also even less attractive as a moving destination than either big “blue” state. Ironically, New Mexico is the least “unequal” state as measured by the Top 10% income share and even New Mexico’s poverty rate isn’t “that” bad (compared with the other states) when the Census Bureau includes living costs and government benefits.

Notably, as it is heavily-reliant on oil and gas production and revenues, New Mexico’s economy is much more resource-driven than any of the other states studied.

Economic Freedom of North America (2021)
US Census Percent Population Growth 2010-2020
State Business Tax Climate (2021)
State Economic Outlook Rankings (2021)
State & Local Spending % GDP 2021 
State & Local Tax Burden % of income 2020
Avg. Unemployment Rate 2016-2020
Avg. Labor Force Participation 2016-2020
Avg. Top 10% income share (2000-2018)
Supplemental Poverty Measure (2017-2019)
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Lujan Grisham’s GRT cut fails to address issues

The following appeared in Las Cruces Sun-News on Sunday, November 28, 2021.

For many years the Rio Grande Foundation has pushed the Legislature to take steps to address fundamental problems with the State’s gross receipts tax. We’ve regularly labeled it New Mexico’s “original sin” of economic policy due to the tremendous harm it does to New Mexico’s economy.

And, while we support ANY effort to lower tax burdens on New Mexicans, the Gov.’s plan for a small .25 percentage point reduction in the State’s GRT burden hardly makes up for recent increases. With a $2 billion budget surplus looming this January and the Senate Finance Committee Chair saying the Legislature has “more money than they know what to do with,” it is time to really reform the GRT, not provide an election year sop to struggling businesses and families.

Currently, the City of Las Cruces GRT is 8.3125%. Back in 2010 that rate was “just” 7.0%. The Gov.’s reduction, if implemented, won’t even get the rate back to 8.0%. Las Cruces is not alone. GRT rates have risen dramatically over the last 20 years due to a combination of state and local policies.

But the most important problem with the GRT is its unfair treatment of small businesses. Accountants, bookkeepers, even medical professionals, and attorneys (and many others) all must charge this tax on top of the cost of their services. Alternatively, service providers located in other states do not have to charge the GRT. This makes New Mexico especially unattractive as a location for small businesses. And it is those small businesses that grow into tomorrow’s big businesses which can employee hundreds or even thousands of workers and boost state and local economies.

With the Legislature expected to convene in January with up to $2 billion in surplus revenues generated primarily from oil and gas, now is the time to focus on fundamental reform. According to the Gov. this tax cut will reduce revenues by $145 million annually. That’s a tiny fraction of the surplus. At a bare minimum proper GRT reform needs to eliminate the taxation of these business services. It will be easier to make the change when there is plenty of revenue available.

The GRT and much-needed reforms to it are not a partisan issue. Republican Jason Harper has introduced reform legislation in recent years with former Senate Finance Committee Chair, Democrat John Arthur Smith. More recently, powerful House Appropriations Committee Chair Democrat Rep. Patty Lundstrom told attendees of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) conference in October that “tax pyramiding” needed to be addressed by the Legislature in the upcoming session.

While taxing services is the fundamental problem with the GRT, there are others. Specifically, while the tax was originally conceived as being applied at VERY low rates and broadly, the political process has led to the current, sorry state of high rate, exemption-filled tax structure.

Special interests line up in Santa Fe to lobby for exemptions and deductions for their business or industry and the Legislature is more than happy to offer those exemptions. And, whether you support taxing groceries or not, the process of eliminating that tax has directly contributed to the massive rise in GRT rates in recent years.

In addition to addressing taxes on business inputs and services, the Legislature needs to put a stop to the special exemptions while also constraining the future ability of local governments to raise rates.

A tiny tax cut passed as we head into an election year with a massive budget service may or may not be good politics, but it certainly isn’t enough to address the fundamental problems with New Mexico’s GRT.

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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New Mexico falls further behind in latest economic freedom report

According to the 2021 edition of the Economic Freedom Index of North America report from the free market Canadian think tank Fraser Institute, New Mexico, in calendar year 2019 (the first year of the Lujan Grisham Administration), slid from 42nd (in last year’s report which used data from the final year of the Martinez Adm.) down to 46th.

While New Mexico has long lagged its neighbors and most of the nation in economic freedom, the 2019 legislative session saw a massive uptick in government spending, tax hikes, newly-imposed regulations, and numerous other policies that make New Mexico less business-friendly. All of New Mexico’s neighbors are among the most economically-free states in the nation.

Not surprisingly, most economically-free half of jurisdictions have higher incomes than do the least economically-free jurisdictions like New Mexico. It is not surprising that New Mexico is among the most impoverished states in the nation.

New Hampshire, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas, were among the MOST economically-free states in the latest report (full rankings below) while California and New York were among the few states that trailed New Mexico. Click on the image below for the FULL report:

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On KOAT Channel 7 RGF Reacts to poll showing United Stadium lacks support

Early voting at the county clerks’ offices is taking place now. A new poll says that overwhelming majorities of Albuquerque voters are against the use of taxpayer dollars to finance the stadium.

While gratified by this news, we recognize that polls are often inaccurate and that the only poll that REALLY matters is the actual election. So, with this stadium and numerous other important issues on the ballot, be sure to GO VOTE (and bring a friend or family member)!

Check out the discussion Gessing recently had with KOAT Channel 7 here.