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Energy and Environment Legislature Notable News Top Issues Transportation Uncategorized

Time for an update on Michelle Lujan Grisham’s MPG mandate

The following appeared in the Farmington Daily-Times on October 7 and several other newspapers.

Recently, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made headlines with his announcement that by 2035 his State will ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles. That is an ambitious goal, but given the time line, it is hard to say what compliance will look like.

But for another, arguably even more ambitious car mileage proposal, one need look no further than New Mexico. Las September New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham announced that by just model year 2022 New Mexico would be increasing its fuel economy requirement for new cars to 52 MPG. The current average fuel economy rate is 25.1 MPG according to the EPA. 

As we noted at the time, Gov. Lujan Grisham (at the time) had “out California-ed California” by adopting even more stringent fuel economy standards than those on the books in California.

Will California’s decision spur Lujan Grisham to action? Perhaps more importantly, is New Mexico REALLY going through with the Gov.’s 52 MPG standard? This was put forth at a time of a record (oil-driven) economic boom in New Mexico. That boom has evaporated thanks to COVID 19 and the Gov.’s lockdown of the State’s economy. She MAY not be as enthusiastic about such radical plans at a time of serious economic challenges.

If you’re expecting to find legislation on this topic from the 2020 legislative session, don’t worry, nothing was even introduced. We have never even seen a formal executive order from the Gov. formalizing this requirement. In fact, after the initial round of media discussion (led off by the New York Times) the issue has been completely forgotten about.

And just to be clear, if the Gov. completely backed away from her plan, we would be more than happy to support such a move. The number of automobiles on the market right now that achieve such a standard is limited to about a dozen or so hybrid models. Considering that “light trucks” now account for 69 percent of the new car market, getting to that 52 MPG average is going to require one or more of the following:

  1. Unforeseen, drastic changes in automobile purchasing patterns among New Mexicans result in few trucks and more fuel-efficient vehicles being purchased;
  2. Massive taxpayer subsidies will have to be handed out to support the purchase of small/hybrid vehicles and massive taxes will be levied on larger vehicles and trucks.
  3. Large numbers of New Mexicans purchasing their vehicles in neighboring states and bringing them home (thus devastating New Mexico car dealerships and the State economy).

As much as our Governor desperately wants to virtue signal to radical environmental groups who so strongly support her, attaining 52 MPG is simply not realistic by 2022. California’s Gov. at least had the good sense to impose his regulations long after he will be out of office, but unless Biden wins the White House and picks her for a position in his Administration, she will have to make some hard decisions about whether to comply with this mandate (or not).

Perhaps it is already a forgotten promise that she never intended to honor in the first place? If so, that is certainly fine with us, but it would seem that New Mexicans should be given an honest explanation so they know what to plan for or expect the next time they walk into a car dealership.

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

Categories
Economy Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues Transportation

No, New Mexico doesn’t need a gas tax hike

The following appeared in the 11/27/19 edition of the Las Cruces Sun-News.

As we move toward 2020 and the start of the short, 30-day legislative session, there are some who want the big-spenders in Santa Fe to raise taxes once again on hard-working New Mexicans.

In 2019, the Legislature, despite a massive surplus, passed the largest tax hike in New Mexico history. Although this was completely unnecessary, a portion of that money supposedly went to improving our roads. If that is still inadequate, there is plenty of surplus revenue sloshing around in the Roundhouse to ensure that roads across New Mexico are improved.

The following are five specific reasons not to raise the gas tax.

  1. It is no secret that New Mexico is in the middle of historic budget surpluses with general fund spending (thanks to record oil production) booming from $6.3 billion to nearly $8.0 billion. That’s a 27% increase in just two years. There is plenty of money available to build and repair roads, especially in Southeast New Mexico where roads have been impacted by the incredible oil and gas growth.
  2. The tax hikes adopted in 2019 just increased taxes with $52 million annually going to roads starting this year. That number will rise in the years to come. It would be premature to raise taxes so quickly after taxes were raised “for roads” just this past year.
  3. New Mexico should stop wasting $30-plus million annually on operating the Rail Runner. Ridership on the train is vanishingly small and wastes money that could otherwise be used for road maintenance. To keep spending money on this boondoggle while also calling for higher taxes is ridiculous. Transit is in decline nationwide. The sooner we realize this and stop spending money on it, the better.
  4. Gas taxes are “regressive.” Not only do the poor allocate a greater percentage of their incomes to paying such taxes, but low-income folks also drive older, less fuel efficient cars.
  5. Finally, although the current political situation in Santa Fe is unlikely to result in needed reform of New Mexico’s labor laws, the fact is that reforming the state’s Davis-Bacon “prevailing wage” law could result in cost reductions for a variety of transportation projects including roads (and schools). A 2017 fiscal analysis from the Legislature found that legislation that would simply have reduced the impact of New Mexico’s law would have saved New Mexico’s Department of Transportation between $20 million to $22 million annually based on 2017-2018 active construction projects.

New Mexico government is already bloated and the state is considered the worst run in the entire nation according to a new analysis by 24/7 Wall Street. Rather than just handing more money over to Santa Fe, it is time we expect a little better management of our tax dollars.

Building and maintaining basic infrastructure like roads is arguably the core function of government. It’s right up there with public safety. Even in the very best of economic times (thanks to national economic growth and record oil production) New Mexico state government has a poor track record of addressing those core functions (thus the 24/7 Wall Street ranking).

In particular Republicans must push back with full-throated opposition to raising taxes. Although lacking in power in Santa Fe, there’s a need to step up and provide a reasonable, limited-government alternative to the big-spending liberals in Santa Fe. They cannot yield to calls for still higher taxes whether they are sold as being for road improvements or something else.

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 Local Government Notable News RailRunner Research Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues Transportation Videos

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.

 

Categories
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.

 

Categories
ART Economy Notable News Oil & Gas RailRunner Spaceport Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues Transportation Videos

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.

Categories
Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues Transportation

What Albuquerque’s Next Mayor and City Council Can Do to Turn City’s Struggling Economy Around

(Albuquerque, NM) – The City of Albuquerque faces serious challenges. With the election for mayor and control of city council scheduled for October 3, it is clear that “the economy” and “crime” are the two issues of most importance to residents.

To assist candidates, the Rio Grande Foundation has outlined a detailed plan to improve Albuquerque’s fiscal condition and thus boost economic development and reallocate resources to effective crime-fighting. Ideas contained in “Fixing Albuquerque: Fiscal Policy” include:

  • Right-size and re-evaluate employee compensation to more closely reflect private-sector reality. Beginning with a comprehensive study and analysis of municipal employment, city councilors and the next mayor must streamline the bureaucracy;
  • Reduce the number of government-owned, city-run, taxpayer-financed facilities such as the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum and the Albuquerque International Sunport. Each of these facilities could at the very least be managed far more efficiently by private-sector providers. In some cases the facilities can be sold off completely;
  • Albuquerque is among the minority of cities to not rely on private-sector providers for city-owned golf courses and solid-waste collection/disposal. For example, Rio Rancho’s trash is handled by Waste Management, Inc. and the City of Cincinnati’s municipal golf courses are managed by private contractors.
  • Nearly 40 percent of the 165 American zoos accredited by the American Zoological Association—among them, zoos in Fort Worth, Cincinnati, New Orleans, San Diego, and Jackson, Mississippi—are run by private, nonprofit societies.
  • Albuquerque’s poorly focused government and bloated payroll is illustrated by a lack of clear, simple, and achievable goals. The city’s “Goal Areas, Goal Statements and Desired Community or Customer Conditions” is a mish-mash of random and even conflicting objectives that often have little to do with making Albuquerque or any other city thrive.

The Rio Grande Foundation will send “Fixing Albuquerque: Fiscal Policy” to all active candidates for city office this fall, and hopes that it will form the basis for some hard discussions about streamlining and improving services and the cost of city government.

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ART Economy Local Government Notable News Tax and Budget Taxes Top Issues Transportation

No need for City of Albuquerque Gas Tax

Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton’s proposal to create a 2 cents-per-gallon gas tax will be voted on by the full council on June 5. If enacted, the tax would be a net negative for the city of Albuquerque. Aside from adding to an already-high local tax burden and disproportionately affecting low-income families, Benton’s tax would not do much to improve the city’s roads and have negative effects on its economy.

The proposed tax adds 2 cents per gallon onto the combined state and federal 35.4-cent tax. This is the same gas tax that has been in the crosshairs of legislative Democrats for further hikes as recently as this special session. Albuquerque residents already face the highest tax burden in the state as a percentage of income. A new gas tax will affect a large number of low-income families.

According to the Brookings Institution, 80 percent of households with annual incomes of under $50,000 drive cars, and a third of them own multiple vehicles. These vehicles are often older and less efficient. The well-off can easily afford a 2-cent tax due to their additional wealth and ability to buy new, efficient cars, but the disadvantaged must pay the same tax while earning less and filling their tanks more. While 2 cents sounds like a small burden, for workers whose main focus is putting food on the table for their families, every little bit counts.

A gas tax would also have negative effects on Albuquerque’s economy. The Brookings Institute notes that such taxes drain the economy of purchasing power due to their effects on low- and moderate-income families. Put simply, lower-income families generally spend most of their income, meaning that a spending increase in one area, like gas, means that spending decreases accordingly in other areas. Decreased spending harms the economy, especially one which is still recovering from a major downturn. Thus, families are hit with a double effect: first, they must pay more for gas and lose out on spending elsewhere, and then they must deal with the effects of a slow economy.

As the ordinance is written, the tax would be used to “rehabilitate transportation systems.” This could mean directly supporting or allowing existing dollars to be diverted to the controversial Albuquerque Rapid Transit program and the city bus system. Any gas tax paid by motorists should at least be dedicated to improving and expanding Albuquerque’s roads.

Additionally, as Benton himself said recently, much of the revenue will be allocated to “outdated” roadways that are functional but for some reason or another are not compliant with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. As well-intentioned as this may be, average Albuquerque residents and motorists want roads that get them from A to B with fewer potholes. As time passes, roads are being upgraded to comply with ADA. Adding a new tax onto the backs of local motorists now in order to comply with a law passed back in 1990 is ridiculous.

Even if the proceeds were dedicated specifically to roads, it is worth questioning what the city will receive in terms of “bang for the buck.” That’s because a significant portion of the money generated by the tax will be spent on the creation of a collection and auditing apparatus. Some of the revenue created would have to be spent on additional bureaucracy to collect, audit and set up an appeals process relating to the new tax.

Gas taxes aside, local taxpayers are facing increased tax burdens. Between Bernalillo County and the city of Albuquerque, gross receipts taxes applied to most purchases will have risen an astonishing 29 percent since 2000 once the latest round of tax hikes kicks in this July. We are reminded every day, whether from news reports or by just driving down the street, that our city has not recovered from the economic crisis of 2008. Raising taxes yet again is not likely to improve the local economy.

You can sign the Rio Grande Foundation’s petition to the City Council and Mayor Richard Berry at www.NoABQGasTax.com.

Categories
ART Local Government Transportation

ART Boondoggle Now Faces Legal Scrutiny

For nearly two years, skeptics, critics and opponents have assembled an impressive arsenal of arguments against Albuquerque Rapid Transit, the proposed dedicated busway along Central Avenue.

The mayor, seven of nine city councilors and the city’s transportation bureaucrats don’t care.

Adamantly committed to the project, and unpersuaded by intense public opposition and a plethora of policy-grounded objections, ART’s overseers have forged ahead. They’ve dedicated municipal-bond revenue to the busway. They’ve asked for, and secured, White House approval for $69 million in federal subsidies. And they had planned to begin construction in May.

But last month, two significant obstacles to ART emerged. One lawsuit, filed in state court, lists a number of small businesses and residents as plaintiffs. Another, filed in federal court, is backed by the “Coalition of Concerned Citizens to Make ART Smart,” an “unincorporated association,” as well as Jean and Marc Bernstein, the owners of the Flying Star restaurants.

The state complaint filed last month said Route 66 is “one of the most historic and well-known iconic roads in the U.S.,” and ART will impact “over 150 places on the National Historic Register.” The National Historic Preservation Act “requires that any federally funded undertaking” consider the impact on “any site, building, structure or object that is included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places,” the suit said. But the analysis of ART’s threat to history was perfunctory, the suit alleged. Plaintiffs requested “a full review of Historic Landmarks and the impact of the project there-on rather than the illegal cursory indication that no significant impacts would occur with regard to Historic Properties.” In addition, the complaint charged that ART would “constitute a complete nuisance and interference with the rights of the existing businesses to continue to contract with their customers and to function.”

The state complaint is strong. Its federal counterpart is stronger. The federal lawsuit charges that the city misrepresented the facts when it asked the Federal Transit Administration for an exemption to the requirement that ART account for its environmental footprint. Central Avenue isn’t known for rich wildlife, but the issue isn’t biology — traffic congestion, traffic patterns, economic vitality and the like, in an urban area must be assessed. Yet Washington approved the city’s request for an exclusion.

It gets worse. In its request to relax environmental scrutiny, according to the federal suit, the city answered “no” to the question: “Is the project likely to generate intense public discussion, concern or controversy, even though it may be limited to a relatively small subset of the community?” Whoa. Last summer, when the city applied for its exemption, the city was well aware of mounting citizen and business opposition. (And since then, resistance has only intensified.)

The federal complaint tacks on a number of other counts, including (like the state case) violation of the National Historic Preservation Act; violation of the state-level Prehistoric and Historic Sites Preservation Act; and nonconformity with the city’s “Complete Streets Ordinance,” which mandates that “the need to move vehicles efficiently” must be balanced with “placemaking, pedestrian-friendliness, historic preservation and economic development,” according to the suit.

We’ve long known that ART is wrong for Albuquerque. The corridor doesn’t have anywhere near the population density to support bus rapid transit. The project would severely reduce mobility by creating more traffic congestion, and is all but certain to put many Central Avenue restaurants and shops out of business. And Washington is nearly insolvent, with no surplus funds to spend on a dubious transit project in a city suffering from a high crime rate and subpar job growth.

Thanks to the state and federal lawsuits, we now know that ART has an even darker side. The city’s proposed busway likely violated federal law, a state statute and a local ordinance. Albuquerque’s residents and businesses should not have had to resort to the courts to block a proposal that’s sure to prove disastrous to both transportation and economic development in their struggling city. But let’s hope that the legal actions, however costly and time-consuming, help put a permanent end to Albuquerque’s budding bus boondoggle.

D. Dowd Muska is research director of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization.

Categories
ART Tax and Budget Transportation

Federal Government Should Take a Pass on Albuquerque’s Proposed Bus Rapid Transit System

(Albuquerque) The proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line is a solution in search of a problem, and our bankrupt federal government should steer clear of providing 80 percent of the infrastructure costs for this unnecessary project. That’s the conclusion of a new Rio Grande Foundation report, “Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus,” which analyzes the case for bus rapid transit along Central Avenue in New Mexico’s largest city.

“Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus,” authored by Rio Grande Foundation Research Director Dowd Muska, argues that the current Rapid Ride bus system along Central has been quite successful in generating ridership. Muska wonders what benefits, in terms of mobility, the new system will provide that the current system does not.

In fact, as Muska argues, in addition to the temporary construction which would tie up traffic throughout the Central corridor, the BRT would limit motorists’ left turns onto Central while removing two traffic lanes to make way for buses. The loss of traffic lanes would result in the elimination of parking along some of Central’s busiest corridors.

The cost estimate being put forth by the city today is likely to rise once construction gets underway, argues Muska. “Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus” cites Willie Brown, a former California politician, who once said, “In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

Ultimately, as Muska notes, BRT advocates are less concerned about mobility within the Central Corridor than they are about “redevelopment” in the area. Advocates claim that so-called “Millennials” are avoiding Albuquerque in search of more densely packed urban areas.

This claim simply doesn’t hold water. As Muska points out, sprawling Western cities such as Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Dallas are growing rapidly and attracting young people. Albuquerque’s poor job growth is the likeliest reason for the city’s ongoing struggles to draw and keep Millennials.

With Washington trillions of dollars in debt, “Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus” concludes that an Albuquerque transit project in need of a purpose is unworthy of federal taxpayer dollars.

Categories
ART Economy Transportation

Randal O’Toole Deconstructs Bus Rapid Transit and Outlines Future of Transportation

Randal O’Toole spoke earlier this week on the issue of Albuquerque’s transportation future. In particular he focused on the City’s proposed bus rapid transit system, the Rail Runner, and the future of transportation. The entire presentation is below (slides here). Below that are some of the most important slides from O’Toole’s presentation. If you want to get active against bus rapid transit, there is a grassroots activism organization called “Save Route 66.”

The proposed bus rapid transit system will increase congestion in the Central corridor, just ask the consultants tasked by the City with looking at the proposal:

Portland, OR, is often touted as a “model” for mass transit, but after spending billions of dollars, transit carries fewer passengers than it did in 1980:

Transit is a trivial portion of the transportation mix in Albuquerque:

Transit appeals to those who make almost nothing and those who have very high incomes and can choose to locate next to it. For working/middle class Americans, transit is far less useful:

Albuquerque’s bus system is not especially “green” when it comes to energy use. It’s hard to believe a new bus system will be a dramatic improvement: