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Constitution and Criminal Justice Legislature Notable News Open Government Top Issues

RGF files ethics complaint against Rep. Hochman-Vigil over conflicts of interest at Spaceport America

The Rio Grande Foundation today filed an ethics complaint with the New Mexico Legislature over various conflicts of interest at Spaceport America. New Mexico has a volunteer Legislature, but legislating on behalf of a paid client is just not right.

Read the full complaint here.

 

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Education Local Government Notable News Public Comments and Testimony Top Issues

What RGF’s president told the APS School board about new COVID restrictions

As has been widely reported in the media, Albuquerque Public Schools on Wednesday, introduced a whole host of restrictions on various activities at their schools.

Here’s a list of the new rules:

  • Wearing properly fitted masks outdoors as well as indoors
  • Students facing one way in classrooms and the cafeteria
  • Keeping students in cohorts
  • No spectators at school events, including athletics, through Feb. 2
  • Prohibiting large group gatherings, including assemblies
  • Staggering transition times and recesses
  • Closing drinking fountains (though students can still fill water bottles)
  • Restricting locker use.

Needless to say, not only is the RGF not a fan of several of these measures (masking outdoors?) but at the VERY least we believe that the new APS Board should be making these policies, NOT the superintendent  or any unelected bureaucrat.

So, here are RGF president’s Paul Gessing’s comments:

I was very happy to see the changes made to the board in the last election and I hope you will act quickly to wrest control over the District away from the bureaucrats.

 

I am the parent of three children who, up until the end of the abbreviated 2019-2020 school year, attended Chaparral Elementary on Albuquerque’s west side. We pulled our children out of APS for the 2020-2021 “virtual” school year and home schooled them because we knew that they would receive a vastly inferior education. Numerous studies have proven us correct.

 

Now our three kids go to a charter school OR Catholic school because APS has been completely inept in managing COVID and balancing the learning and socialization needs of children with a virus that has minimal impacts on children and has for the past two years.

 

The new COVID protocols at APS, adopted (so far as I can tell) without a vote of the Board, are unfair, unnecessary, and unscientific. I urge the board to take a public vote to overturn them and I urge ALL board members to vote to do so. Furthermore, in addition to overturning the new, unnecessary protocols, I urge the NEW APS board to eliminate the unnecessary mask mandate on children in the classroom.

 

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

RGF discusses Gov.’s budget on KOAT 7

RGF president Paul Gessing recently sat down with Channel 7 KOAT to discuss  the Gov.’s budget. The original interview covered a variety of issues within the budget but wound up being JUST about the law enforcement component.

While most New Mexicans, especially those in crime-plagued Albuquerque, support the hiring and retention of law enforcement, Gessing was actually referring to the fact that Gov. MLG’s budget has a “slight” increase in funding for Department of Corrections while the Legislature’s budget CUTS funding. The assertion is that New Mexico’s prison population is declining and therefore less money is needed.

It is all well and good to cut funding for corrections, but with violent crime at record levels in Albuquerque, it would seem like violent offenders should be filling up those prison cells…but perhaps the courts are not doing THEIR jobs? Either way, that conversation was left on the proverbial cutting room floor. Click on the image below for the story.

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Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

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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Constitution and Criminal Justice Local Government Notable News Top Issues

Rio Grande Foundation appeals free speech case to the US Supreme Court

The Arizona-based Goldwater Institute recently filed briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Rio Grande Foundation’s lawsuit against a Santa Fe ordinance that forces nonprofits to surrender their donors’ privacy rights whenever they support or oppose a ballot initiative. The case is just the latest in a series of cases in which donors to think tanks and nonprofits have been targeted by anti-privacy mandates nationwide.

The lawsuit began in 2017 when the Rio Grande Foundation announced its opposition to a proposal to impose a sales tax on sugared soft drinks in Santa Fe. The Foundation posted a video to its Facebook page—a video it didn’t make—that urged voters to oppose the initiative. That triggered a city ordinance that requires nonprofits that spend more than $250 supporting or opposing initiatives to turn over the names, addresses, and employment information of any donor who gave even a penny for that purpose. Even though the Foundation had not spent any money on the video, city bureaucrats decided that the video must have cost that much, and therefore that it qualified as an “in-kind donation.” It concluded that the Foundation was required to put its donors’ confidential information on a publicly accessible government list.

Goldwater took up Rio Grande’s case, filing suit to argue that stripping the Foundation’s supporters of their privacy in this way was likely to scare away donors—something lawyers call a “chilling effect” on free speech rights. And we proved at trial that when other, similar organizations, have been forced to turn over their private information, their employees and supporters have suffered intimidation and harassment. That’s not news—as the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta made clear, the risk of retaliation when people have their private information made public is a real one—and it does cause people to refrain from exercising their First Amendment rights.

But the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals threw the case out earlier this year, in a bizarre holding that said people cannot bring a “chilling effect” lawsuit unless they themselves choose not to exercise their freedom of speech. In other words, the court said that because the Rio Grande Foundation intends to speak out in the future, it’s not allowed to argue that the Santa Fe ordinance will likely scare donors into silence.

That makes no sense, because, as the Tenth Circuit itself has said in other cases, the fact that someone is willing to keep speaking despite risk of punishment doesn’t deprive that person of the right to challenge the constitutionality of punishment. For example, in a 2019 case—also from New Mexico—federal courts ruled that a professor who was retaliated against for speaking out about improprieties at her school could still sue even though she “show[ed] extraordinary persistence” and refused to be silenced.

Yet in Rio Grande’s case, the court created a new rule holding that “an element of a chilled speech injury is an actual intention not to speak,” meaning that only a person who is afraid to speak, but not afraid to sue, is allowed to bring a First Amendment lawsuit. That’s illogical—and likely to slam the courthouse doors to many people and organizations who should be allowed to defend their constitutional rights.

We urge the Supreme Court to take up this case and vindicate Rio Grande’s freedom of speech.

You can read our petition here and learn more about the case here.

Here’s the video that started it all.

 

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Economy Legislature Notable News Research Top Issues

New Mexico’s low labor participation rate has plummeted during COVID

New Mexico has always struggled with low workforce participation levels. It was hardly a surprise when a national study earlier this year called New Mexico the “least hardworking state” in the entire nation. The COVID 19 pandemic AND the federal/state governments’ fear mongering, mask and vaccine mandates and massive social spending programs have done nothing to lure people back into the workforce.

Alas, as the chart below shows (using data from Bureau of Labor Statistics) New Mexico’s workforce participation rate has remained depressed even relative to other state. In January of 2020 the rate for NM was 55.5%. As of October 2021 that rate was 53.3% , a decrease of 4%.

Not only did New Mexico START with lower workforce participation than its neighbors, but it has seen a the steepest decline of any of its neighboring states. No state has gotten back to January 2020 workforce participation rates, but Oklahoma and Utah have gotten close.

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Issues Open Government Top Issues

Rio Grande Foundation Files Complaint Against Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for Failing to Disclose Travel Records

(Albuquerque, NM) – The Rio Grande Foundation has filed a complaint with New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) alleging that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has failed to disclose records relating to the governor’s attendance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

In their official capacity, Governor Lujan Grisham and members of her administration attended the conference as representatives of New Mexico. The expenses incurred for travel, food, and lodging are subject to inspection by the public, whether the expenses were paid for with taxpayer funds or otherwise. If special interests funded this excursion, the public has a right to know.

The Foundation submitted a request for records on November 1, 2021 asking for all documents related to these costs. On November 16, 2021, the request was improperly denied. The request to inspect records was expanded and a revised request was submitted on November 18, 2021 and was wrongfully denied on November 23, 2021.

According to the Inspection of Public Records Act, “public records” means all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained.

Patrick Brenner, Vice President of the Rio Grande Foundation, said “We requested all receipts and documents associated with the administration’s attendance at this international conference. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has acknowledged that her attendance was in her official capacity as a representative of New Mexico. As such, the records related to transportation are subject to inspection, especially if they were paid for by a special interest or foreign entity. No disclosure of any in-kind contribution can be found in the latest campaign finance report. The administration’s continued devotion to anti-transparency is deeply disturbing and undermines the public trust.”

The Foundation maintains that the Office of the Governor has improperly and wrongly withheld documents that ought to have been made available for inspection by the public. We look forward to a swift response from the Attorney General.

The original complaint can be examined here: https://riograndefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Combine-December-9-2021.pdf

This press release is available in PDF format here: https://riograndefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Press-Release-Attorney-General-Complaint_-Gov-MLG-Travel.pdf

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Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

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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Economy Legislature Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues

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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Economy Notable News Tax and Budget Top Issues

Opinion piece: Economic Freedom Takes a Hit in New Mexico

Anya Kamenetz | KRWG

The following appeared at KRWG on November 17, 2021.

Nearly any business owner in New Mexico will tell you that Michelle Lujan Grisham and her policies have been unfriendly to business. Setting aside the COVID lockdowns, since she took office in 2019, we’ve seen multiple tax hikes, numerous new regulations, and numerous policies that make it more costly and difficult to hire workers.

These policies aren’t just “anti-business,” taken as a whole they undermine economic freedom. A new study provides hard data that quantifies and highlights the negative impact of policies of Lujan Grisham and the Legislature (at least in 2019).

For starters, it is worth defining the term. Economic freedom is broadly speaking the ability to engage in voluntary economic transactions without unduly being hindered by government policies. This includes low, fair taxation, reasonable rules and regulations, and a limited government spending.

Not surprisingly, policies of economic freedom are strongly correlated with greater economic prosperity. In fact, according to the 2021 edition of the report, the freest 25% of states have personal incomes that are 7.5% higher than the national average while the 25% of least free states have personal incomes that are 1% less than the national average.

New Mexico has long lagged its neighbors and most of the nation in economic freedom having consistently been in the lowest quartile for years. Thus, it is not surprising that New Mexico is among the most impoverished states in the nation.

But, when Gov. Susana Martinez took office in 2011, New Mexico ranked 46th in economic freedom. Despite her having to deal with a hostile Legislature, that number improved to 42nd by the last year of her administration mostly due to her fiscal restraint.

But, when Lujan Grisham took over in 2019 along with a liberal Legislature the State saw a massive uptick in government spending, several tax hikes, new regulations, and numerous other policies that make New Mexico less economically-free. On the other hand, New Mexico’s neighbors are all among the most economically-free states in the nation. Texas, with no personal income tax and a pro-freedom labor laws like “Right to Work” ranks 4th overall.

While we don’t have the data on how economic freedom has fared in New Mexico in 2020 and 2021, we know that in general Gov. Lujan Grisham and the Legislature seem to look to California as their model. Alas, the State is one of the few ranked worse than New Mexico on economic freedom at 49th. Only New York performs worse.

The fact is that the policies passed in 2019 that caused New Mexico to slide in economic freedom have only been reinforced by others that further undermine economic freedom in 2020 and 2021.

With a $2 billion surplus, Gov. Lujan Grisham has proposed a miniscule reduction in the gross receipts tax (while leaving the grotesque pyramiding and loopholes intact). But, we can expect that an overwhelming majority of that surplus will go to even more government spending that will do nothing to actually improve New Mexico’s serious poverty challenges or overall economic outcomes.

It is time for New Mexico politicians (and voters) to prioritize economic freedom in turning our State around.

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