Senate Leader’s Record Bodes Ill for Economic Growth

Change, Same Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.



New Mexico’s Senate majority leader – arguably the most powerful elected Democrat in the State – recently laid out some of his views on the upcoming legislative session. He claimed to support “compromise,” but it is clear that what he really means is that he has no plans to support reforms that will boost New Mexico’s struggling private- sector economy.

Sen. Michael Sanchez’s intransigence is not surprising given that he and his allies have controlled New Mexico’s Legislature for many decades and (likely see the new House Republican majority) as a temporary loosening of control as opposed to a decisive break. That big-government ideology, by the way, has driven New Mexico to the bottom of most good lists and the top of most bad ones.

Sanchez, despite his rhetoric of compromise, has stated firmly that he opposes “right to work.” On the other hand, he supports a new $50 million “closing fund” designed to bring new businesses to our state.

His positions are not surprising for two reasons. Despite both policies ostensibly being “pro-business,” right to work will cost zero tax dollars, reduce the fundraising power of a key special interest group, and has reams of studies showing its effectiveness.

The closing fund, on the other hand, removes $50 million from New Mexico’s productive economy (taxpayers) and delivers it to politicians who have very poor track records of picking winners and losers (See Eclipse Aviation, Spaceport America and Schott Solar for a few examples). Worse, there is nothing more than anecdotal data showing closing funds have a positive economic impact. There are always new businesses that benefit from subsidies, but the negative impact on existing businesses and taxpayers is ignored.

In other words, Sanchez is perfectly comfortable with boosting the closing fund because it fits his ideological bias toward bigger government. It is also the way New Mexico has always “done business.” Of course, that has led us to our current, impoverished status.

I fully expect that Sanchez will play the role of obstructionist, not compromiser, for the foreseeable future. I hope I am wrong. Right to work is one of many important issues that should be given a fair hearing in the Senate regardless of Sanchez’s personal views.

There are literally dozens of solid, free market issues from tax credits for school choice to the elimination of worker’s compensation benefits for employees that show up to a job site drunk or high that also deserve a fair hearing. I am confident all of these will gain greater traction in Santa Fe than in past years.

In other words, Sanchez will have ample opportunity to show his true colors, and we plan to shine a spotlight on his behavior for better or worse.

The newly-ascendant House Republican leadership is not completely reliant on the Senate, however. It can increase transparency and good-government by video recording committee hearings and archiving the footage online. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 39 states already record and archive committee hearings.

Another idea whose time has come is to accept remote testimony. It is no secret that New Mexico is a large, sparsely-populated state which makes getting to Santa Fe to participate in the political process a special challenge.

Allowing concerned New Mexicans from far away corners of the state like Farmington, Hobbs, Clayton and Las Cruces to testify from a central location like their local community college via nothing more complicated than a Skype connection would seem like a no-brainer. It could also boost interest in government and save the environment at the same time!

We have high hopes for reform in 2015. With stagnant federal spending and rapidly-declining prices in the oil patch, New Mexico needs a strong private sector more than ever. It is time our representatives in Santa Fe, Michael Sanchez included, embrace reform.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.