"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

Editorial: Contemplating the Rocky Mountain high

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-01-12 09:33

Rob Nikolewski. Photo courtesy of Santa Fe New Mexican/Clyde Mueller.

It’s reefer madness!

No, not the stories of people lined up around the block on the first day of the new year in places across Colorado to buy marijuana for recreational purposes.

I’m talking about the world-turned-upside-down reaction from opposite political corners in the aftermath of the Rocky Mountain State passing the law.

Last week, the New York Times, the bastion of all good-thinking liberals, came out with an editorial bringing up concerns about Colorado’s “Marijuana Experiment.”

Yet at the same time, the National Review, the bastion of all right-thinking conservatives, came out with its own editorial, headlined, “Sensible On Weed,” congratulating voters for making “the prudent choice.”

So the Gray Lady’s editorial board, which has never had a problem with espousing social issues such abortion or same-sex marriage gets its knickers in a twist over Colorado’s decision but the National Review is cool with it?

Cats living with dogs!

Now the libertarian in me has no problems with Colorado’s decision (or that of Washington state, which is in the process of instituting its own pot decriminalization measure). In the words of the über-free marketeer Milton Friedman, “The government has no more right to tell me what goes into my mouth than it has to tell me what comes out of my mouth.”

But while I support decriminalization I am willing to listen to those who oppose it, such as former Carter administration Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano, who has argued that for every dollar we spend on taxing alcohol and cigarettes, we spend nine dollars in health care costs, criminal justice expenses and social welfare spending.

Here in New Mexico, former state Rep. Dennis Kintigh of Roswell — who used to be an FBI narcotics officer — points out that prescription drugs are manufactured to extremely high standards and heavily regulated and taxed.

“Why then do we have this nightmare with prescription drugs,” Kintigh told me in an interview last year. “If that’s the panacea that solves everything, how can there be this drug overdose death rate that is going through the ceiling with prescription drugs?”

He makes a good point — and a few others, too. You can see my interview with Kintigh, as well as one with a supporter of decriminalization, at: http://newmexico.watchdog.org/16671

No, my chief concern with the Colorado law is based on issues centering on the collision of government and money.

In Colorado, marijuana will be taxed at 25 percent (plus the usual state sales tax of 2.9 percent) and sales are expected to generate $67 million. Should that come to pass, great.

But we know from experience how government works and I wouldn’t be surprised that, in time, as Colorado officials grow accustomed to that tax income, marijuana is looked upon as just another sin tax and — as we have seen with cigarettes and liquor — the tax rate increases.

When that tax balloons to 40 to 50 percent, there will be a powerful incentive to create a black market and sellers will come up with illegal ways to supply what consumers want.

You can rail about the social and moral advantages and disadvantages of legalizing marijuana but my worry is over government’s inexorable desire for more.

Look here at New Mexico.

When the Legislative Lottery Scholarship was created in the mid-1990s, voters were assured that no taxpayer dollars would be used to fund the program. But now, with lottery ticket sales stagnant and tuition costs rising, the lottery scholarship is running out of money and both the Governor’s Office and Legislative Finance Committee have called for spending between $16 million-$22 million from the general fund (taxpayers) until a long-term fix is made.

Here’s another example:

While in grad school in New York City, I read that when the George Washington Bridge started construction in 1927, it was under the presumption that once the bonds on the bridge were paid off, the tollbooths would come down. That was 87 years ago and the tolls are still up. And the cost going into the city today on the GW? Thirteen bucks.

So if you think a government-run program that generates millions can stand a decent chance of reining itself in, well, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

(This column originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican. Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski)

Rob, the buzzkill

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-01-10 17:46

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

I’m appearing tonight (Friday, Jan. 10) on “New Mexico In Focus,” the weekly public affairs show broadcast on KNME-TV, the PBS affiliate in Albuquerque at 7 p.m.

One of the topics on the panel discussion hosted by Gene Grant is the potential growth in “pot tourism” now that Colorado has legalized recreational marijuana sales.

Panelists Sophie Martin, an Albuquerque attorney, Dan Foley, a former member of the New Mexico House of Representatives, and Julie Ann Grimm, the editor of the Santa Fe Reporter, and I talked about what may happen in the Rocky Mountain State now that the law has passed.

Some think there could be a big boost in the number of people coming to Colorado and that pot sales will lead to a tax windfall. Already, the state expects to take in $67 million in taxes on marijuana.

But I offer a cautionary note for the long-term.

Here’s the segment:

And here’s a web extra of the panelists talking about how much gay marriage may boost out-of-state visitors to New Mexico and a snarky tweet sent out by former Lt. Governor Diane Denish following the death of a billionaire who made sizeable political contributions during his career:

 

You can watch the entire one-hour program tonight at 7 p.m. and online by clicking here.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

National study says New Mexico’s debt equals $24,041 per person

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-01-10 12:42

INDEBTED: A study from a fiscally conservative group claims that New Mexico’s total debt equals $24,041 per person in the state.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – James Madison once said, “I go on the principle that a public debt is a public curse.”

By that measure, New Mexico has some work to do, judging from the numbers released earlier this week by a fiscally conservative policy group.

A study by State Budget Solutions shows total state debt amounts to $24,041 for each and every person in New Mexico, placing the Land of Enchantment’s debt obligations as the seventh-highest in the country.

The figure for states overall was $16,178 per capita.

“This is the fourth time we’ve done this report and we’ve reached a new shocking total in state debt,” said Cory Eucalitto, who crunched the numbers by looking at a variety of debt measures for each state that go beyond what most state budget offices take into account.

For example, the State Budget Solutions study looks at market-valued unfunded public pension liabilities, benefit obligations for public employees and outstanding unemployment trust fund loans.

Using those figures, State Budget Solutions calculates that New Mexico’s state debt is more than $50 billion, which is 28th-highest. But since New Mexico’s population is relatively small, that means its per capita debt is $24,041, moving New Mexico to seventh in the country.

The state’s official debt numbers are different.

According to figures compiled by the New Mexico Board of Finance, a debt affordability study puts the state’s unfunded debt at about $3.7 billion.

“The (SBS) study includes state pension funds and other retirement benefits, which shifts the number considerably,” Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Tim Korte told New Mexico Watchdog. “Without knowing the methodology but assuming the group’s $50 billion figure for New Mexico is accurate, the figures presented in the study reaffirm the need for a cautious budgeting approach.”

By some measures, New Mexico actually fared pretty well in the SBS study.

For example, New Mexico had the nation’s 13th-lowest ranking for outstanding unemployment trust fund loans and 20th-lowest for outstanding debt.

On the other hand, New Mexico had the third-highest ranking for the amount of debt as a percentage of the gross state product, at 62 percent. Only Hawaii (64 percent) and Ohio (63 percent) finished higher.

The overall tenor of the SBS report is downbeat, claiming its numbers show state governments combine to face $5.1 trillion in debt nationwide.

“When you add in all of the other components of state debt that don’t necessarily show up in traditional state government financial reporting, the problem is so much larger,” Eucalitto said in an interview with Watchdog.org. “And too many people and too many elected officials don’t understand there are these other trillions of dollars … that states need to address.”

The DFA’s Korte said that with New Mexico’s spending restraint and budget reserves of nearly 10 percent, “we can focus on central priorities such as education, economic development, public safety and water infrastructure while remaining prepared for any unforeseen issues.”

“Concerns remain about the heavy federal presence in New Mexico as well as a natural gas market that remains flat because of large supplies,” Korte said in in an email.

Natural gas plays a large role in the relative strength or weakness in New Mexico’s economy. It’s estimated that an increase of just 10 cents in the price per thousand cubic feet of natural gas translates into $10 million more revenue into the state’s general fund.

Click here to read the entire State Budget Solutions state debt report.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Santa Fe mayor denies political favoritism in restaurant deal

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-01-08 22:55

GRILLED ABOUT THE AIRPORT GRILL: Santa Fe Mayor David Coss denies any political favoritism regarding a restaurant located at the city’s municipal airport.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Santa Fe Mayor David Coss says he showed no political favoritism in handling a controversy involving a former campaign contributor, a union supporter and a restaurant at the city’s airport that is facing an Internal Revenue Service lien.

“I’ve always been a supporter of the airport,” Coss told New Mexico Watchdog in a terse interview right before the weekly Santa Fe City Council meeting began Wednesday night.

Coss denied there’s any sweetheart deal for the Santa Fe Airport Grill, run by Duke City Gourmet Co. LLC. A state document lists the restaurant’s officials as film industry union representative Jon Hendry, a long-time political Coss supporter, and Duke City Gourmet managing partner Lisa Van Allen.

According to the Santa Fe Reporter, Van Allen and her business have contributed nearly $2,300 to Coss, who has been mayor since 2006 and ran unsuccessfully for the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2012.

Coss is a longtime union supporter and has served as organizer, negotiator and president of Communications Workers of America State Government Local.

“That lease (for the Airport Grill) was done a long time before I was on the scene,” said Coss, who insisted that any political contributions had no bearing on the city’s dealings with the restaurant that is alleged to owe more than $108,000 since 2010.

Santa Fe airport manager Francey Jesson has said she noticed discrepancies in the restaurant’s payment history when she started working for the city earlier this year,.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Jesson was worried the city was possibly out of compliance with federal regulations because Duke City was paying rent at below fair-market value.

In a timeline of events, Jesson wrote that she met with Santa Fe officials, including city manager Brian Synder. “If I remember correctly, it was at the start of this meeting that the mayor, who was wrapping up a meeting with Brian, mentioned to ‘be nice to them,’ in reference to the restaurant owners,” Jesson wrote.

Coss denied any favoritism to New Mexico Watchdog and city spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter told reporters Tuesday, “The mayor routinely instructs staff to be courteous in dealing with members of the public, contractors and partners.”

New Mexico Watchdog spoke to Hendry, a union representative well-known for his work on behalf of the movie industry. Hendry said he cut off his relationship with Duke City Gourmet years ago.

“It’s a company I’ve not been associated with for a decade,” Hendry said, adding that he and Van Allen have been “good friends” and denied reports that the two are domestic partners.

“I’ve represented her for 20 years,” Hendry said. “She’s one of the members of my union (IATSE — the Interernational Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.)”

Santa Fe City Council member Patty Bushee is calling for an audit of the restaurant.

“The improprieties that perhaps occurred I think are putting the city in jeopardy with regards to federal funding out at the airport,” Bushee told New Mexico Watchdog on Wednesday.

But Hendry blasted Bushee, accusing her of trying to score political points in the run-up to the city’s mayoral election in March.

“This is not about me, this is not about Lisa (Van Allen), this is not about Airport Grill,” Hendry said. “This is about embarrassing Coss.”

Bushee is running for mayor in a field that includes Bill Dimas and Javier Gonzales. Last week, Coss endorsed Gonzales.

“This is absolutely a political issue,” Hendry said. Bushee “sat on this issue until Coss endorsed Javier.”

Bushee denied any political motivation, saying she’s raised concerns about the airport’s restaurant deal since 2006.

“This situation concerned our new airport director (Jesson), and we simply had a conversation and I think she’s been trying to do her job and not allowed to do it,” Bushee said.

When asked if she was referring to Coss, Bushee said, “I’m not going to say until there’s been a hearing how this went on.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Taxpayer dollars slated to prop up NM’s lottery scholarship program

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-01-07 16:03

TAXPAYER DOLLARS FOR SCHOLARSHIPS: With revenue sagging for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship program, both the governor and the legislature intend to use money from the general fund to keep the program going for now.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — When the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarships were created in 1995, it was done with the understanding no tax dollars would be used to fund the program.

All of the money needed to pay for the tuition handed out to tens of thousands of students in New Mexico since its inception have come from proceeds collected from people buying tickets for such games as Scratchers and Powerball jackpots.

But lottery revenue is down and budget recommendations from both the Legislative Finance Committee and the office of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez are each calling for money from the taxpayer-supported general fund to keep the lottery scholarship program afloat until changes are made to make the program financially sustainable.

The LFC is calling for $11 million this spring and another $11 million in fiscal year 2015, contingent on the Legislature coming up with a long-term fix.

The governor’s office is calling for an appropriation of $16 million.

“We do not want children who are in college to feel the pain because this fund is not solvent,” Martinez said Monday at a news conference where she announced her budget recommendations. “We also think (the lottery scholarship) can work within the parameters laid out by the Legislature when they created this fund.”

When the upcoming 30-day legislative session starts in two weeks, lawmakers will try to hammer out an agreement that will get the lottery scholarship program back on solid financial footing.

A number of solutions have been proposed, ranging from reducing the amount of the awards given out to students to increasing the grade point averages for students (right now, a minimum GPA of 2.5 is required).

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, has mentioned partially funding the program with tribal gaming revenue and earmarked tax hikes, but on Monday the governor said her $16 million recommendation is designed to happen just once.

The lottery scholarship program “was intended to live within the money it generates,” Martinez said. “There should not be general funds or a carve-out of general funds placed into the lottery.”

But what about the guarantee made in the mid-1990s that no taxpayer dollars would be used at all?

“These laws are not etched in stone,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe. “We can change them … We need to stabilize the lottery.”

“This problem has been known, it’s been looming, it’s been coming and should have been solved a year or two ago, but it was not solved,” Martinez said.

At a committee hearing last month, legislators from both parties admitted the idea of using tax dollars for lottery scholarships wouldn’t sit well with many voters, but coming up with a long-term solution could make the issue more palatable.

“We have commitments to our high school juniors and seniors,”said Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque. “To go into the general fund, I don’t want to do it unless we have a solution on board.”

“We keep kicking the can down the road,” said Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. “We have people who don’t want to make hard choices.”

The financial problems with the lottery scholarships have been largely blamed on two factors: stagnant numbers of tickets being bought and the rising costs of in-state tuition.

Under the current system, lottery scholarships pay for 100 percent of tuition for eight consecutive semesters, beginning with the second semester of enrollment. The scholarships can be used at 25 public colleges, junior colleges or universities in New Mexico and students who transfer to another eligible college can keep the scholarship, even if tuition increases.

In April 1995, then-Gov. Gary Johnson signed legislation creating the New Mexico Lottery and the college scholarships that have since gone out to more than 90,000 students.

From his perch as a former governor now living in Taos, Johnson said the lottery scholarship program doesn’t create enough incentive for colleges and universities across the state from curbing growing tuition costs.

“It’s given higher education in New Mexico immunity from competitive pricing,” Johnson told New Mexico Watchdog. “Tuition costs have risen because, hey, everyone’s on the lottery scholarship.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Dueling budget recommendations for NM’s upcoming legislative session

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-01-06 18:29

THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET: Gov. Susana Martinez laid out her budget recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year on Monday. NM Watchdog photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – There are some differences in the respective budget proposals turned in by the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislative Finance Committee, with each side taking a couple shots at the other, but no lines have been drawn in the sand — at least not yet.

Coming on the heels of the LFC budget recommendations made last week, Gov. Martinez and her staff came out with their own plan on Monday.

“These are problems we have to solve now,” Martinez said at a news conference at Acequia Madre Public School in Santa Fe. “Otherwise, we’re going to stay stagnant or we’re not going to continue with positive growth. I believe we can come to an agreement. We have good relationships with each other.”

“I’m willing to work with the administration,” LFC chairman and Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, said, adding, “If we don’t work together, if we don’t hang to together, we’ll hang separately.”

It’s often difficult to line up the LFC recommendations with those of the Governor’s Office but here’s how they each stack up on some specific issues:

Gov. Martinez budget LFC budget recommendation Total budget FY2015 $6.07 billion $6.15 billion Percentage increase 3.0% 4.3% Early literacy programs $15.5 million $12 million Pre-K and K-3 Plus $36 million $35 million Overhaul of pay structure for NM State Police $4.5 million $3 million Money to meet NM Lottery Scholarship obligations $16 million this spring $11 million this spring, $11 million in FY 2015 Increases for state employees $14.2 milion in targeted 1.5% cost of living increase for all increases (including State state employees, esitmated at Police overhaul) $50 million and $40 million for schools and state agencies to use at their discretion Reserves remaining 10% 9.4%

Varela criticized the Martinez budget for not doing enough to help the state’s lagging economy and said the LFC recommendations calling for 1.5 percent cost of living raises for all state employees would boost the state’s finances.

“Our plan would turn New Mexico around from the spiraling effect that we’ve had for the last decade,” Varela said after Monday’s news conference. “There seems to be a reluctance (from Martinez) in terms of across the board salary increases on the part of public employees, to reward them for performance.”

For her part, Martinez criticized the LFC budget calling for $40 million to schools and state agencies to be used at their own discretion and said the LFC recommendations for education reforms are “virtually non-existent.”

However, the largest segment of the budget in both proposals goes to education.

Some 44 percent of the governor’s budget and 56 percent of all new spending go to education.

The LFC budget calls for $2.7 billion in FY 2015 for public schools, a 5.6 percent increase.

Update: Rather than seeing pay increases for all state employees, the Martinez budget plan would boost pay for about one-third of public workers and new teachers would get higher pay.

“Small, across the board increases do nothing to reform our broken salary compensation system,” Martinez said. “They just shift the broken system upward a little bit.”

Click here to get more details on the LFC budget and here for more on the governor’s recommendations.

The 30-day legislative session starts Jan. 21 at the Roundhouse.

“We need to create good-paying jobs,” Varela said.

“As professionals, we know what we have said to those that elect us and what promises we’ve made,” Martinez said. “We just have to keep them.”

On another topic, Martinez said she had no plans to try to reverse the New Mexico Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage. “It’s the law of the land and the court has spoken,” she said.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Get drunk, get hurt, get paid: NM lawmakers trying to fix workers’ comp loophole

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-01-06 16:44

DRUNK ON THE JOB: In New Mexico, workers can test positive for drugs and alcohol but still qualify for workers’ comp if they injure themselves on the job.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — It sounds crazy, but thanks to a poorly worded law employees who hurt themselves or others while drunk or stoned on the job in New Mexico are often eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

But with a 30-day legislative session around the corner, lawmakers will try to change that.

“I’m hopeful, let’s put it that way,” Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, told New Mexico Watchdog on Monday. “It’s a personal responsibility issue.”

Roch plans to introduce a bill that will close a loophole in the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act, which an appellate court says is vaguely worded and, business leaders say, costs employers thousands of dollars in claims.

In some cases, New Mexico taxpayers get stuck with the tab.

For example, in 2006 a city sanitation employee in Las Cruces fell off a garbage truck and injured his head, wrists and a hip. Some three hours later the worker was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .12, well above the .08 legal limit in New Mexico.

But because of a lack of clarity in the Workers’ Compensation Act, an appeals court ruled the employee was entitled to 90 percent of his workman’s compensation claim, which cost taxpayers in Las Cruces about $90,000.

“The intent of the law called for a penalty to be built in if an employee showed up for work drunk and got into a car accident, but how the law is applied now, it’s very hard for that to go into effect,” said Darin Childers, director of the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council.

The court has called on the Legislature to clean it up, but Roch has been turned back in two prior attempts.Bu

In last year’s 60-day session, Roch’s bill was tabled by the House Labor and Human Resources Committee on a party-line vote, with all five Democrats voting to table the bill and all four Republicans voting against it.

“It was kind of overbearing and punitive in terms of the worker,” Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, told New Mexico Watchdog at the time. “You’re also dealing with issues of family members who are heirs to entitlements.”

“But what about the family of the employee who is injured on the job by a fellow employee who’s impaired?” Roch said. “If someone makes that decision (to drink or take drugs), they ought not be rewarded.”

The Builders Trust of New Mexico, a coalition of home builders and contractors, calls for tightening the law, citing statistics that show workers’ compensation claims are 20 percent higher in New Mexico than the national average, and workers’ comp insurance premiums are going up 4 percent in New Mexico while premiums are falling in 19 other states.

“In construction, unfortunately, we have problems with employees using drugs and alcohol,” said Jack Milarch, CEO of the Builders Trust. “Companies can literally be put out of business because these claims are terribly expensive.”

As worded, the statute allows denying compensation only if the worker’s drug or alcohol condition was the sole factor in causing an accident, which critics say makes it almost impossible to deny a claim.

“The statute needs to be fixed,” said Childers.”Whether it’s more favorable to the employer or more favorable to the employee isn’t really our call, but something needs to happen.”

The Builders Trust is striking all references to prescription medication.

“The powers that be didn’t seem to be willing to take that on” in previous sessions, Milarch said, “so we decided to avoid that. We want to focus on illegal drugs and alcohol this time.”

In a 30-day legislative session, any bill not involving appropriations or revenue needs a message from the governor — put “on the call” — for it to be debated in committee. New Mexico Watchdog asked the office of Gov. Susana Martinez whether a workers’ compensation bill would be included on the agenda, but our messages haven’t been returned.

“I have not received word yet, but it was put on the call before and I have no reason to think she won’t this year,” Roch said.

Update 1/7: Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell e-mailed New Mexico Watchdog this comment:

“It’s certainly reasonable to think that people should be responsible for their own actions if they use illegal drugs or get drunk at work. We haven’t seen the specific legislation on this and decisions about what will be messaged as part of the session have not been set.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Study ranks New Mexico last in the US in economic freedom

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-01-02 11:18

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — It’s a new year but, as is often the case, New Mexico ranks pretty low in yet another survey.

In fact, New Mexico finished dead last among all 50 states in a study of economic freedom, and when provinces in Canada are factored in, only Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island finish below the Land of Enchantment.

The survey, titled “Economic Freedom of North America,” is an annual report produced by the Fraser Institute, a free-market think tank based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Economic freedom is a powerful driver of growth and prosperity,” the study’s co-authors wrote after measuring a series of factors that included the size of government, taxes and the number of government regulations. “Those provinces and states that have low levels of economic freedom continue to leave their citizens poorer than they need or should be.”

Here are the rankings, with New Mexico coming in 58th:

New Mexico’s weakest performance in the study came in spending by government as a percentage of GDP, where it finished in last place among U.S. states.

LAND OF THE NOT-SO-FREE: A study of states in the U.S. and provinces in Canada shows New Mexico is among the “least free” economic sectors in North America.

It also fared badly in overall size of government, which probably reflects New Mexico’s reliance on dollars from the federal government. Policy makers in the state have discussed concerns about the vulnerability of New Mexico’s economy to sequesters and shutdowns coming from Washington. D.C.

On a macro level, the survey came out with a rather surprising finding: according to Fraser Institute researchers, the level of economic freedom in Canada has surpassed the United States.

“Unfortunately, this does not mean that Canadian provinces are gaining in economic freedom, but rather that their economic freedom is declining more slowly than in the U.S. states,” the survey said.

In fact, four of the top seven finishers in the survey were from “The Great White North,” with Alberta, the hotbed for Canada’s energy industries, finishing in first place. Delaware, Texas and Nevada came out on top among U.S. states.

Click here to read the entire 92-page report.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Deming incident ranks NM as ‘scariest’ of 2013

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-01-01 10:22

NO. 1 ON THE ‘SCARY’ LIST: An incident in which a 63-year-old alleges southern New Mexico authorities violated him ranks first in a listing of ‘the scariest people of 2013.’

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The horrific story out of Deming has captured national attention again.

The incident, in which a 63-year-old southern New Mexico man filed a lawsuit alleging that police officers in southern New Mexico performed X-rays, enemas and even a colonoscopy upon him after suspecting him of carrying drugs, prompted outrage from civil liberties defenders across the country and across the world when news of the lawsuit came out this fall.

According to the suit, no drugs were found. But the man was charged $6,000 for the colonoscopy.

Now, www.watchdog.org, the news website run by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity (which funds New Mexico Watchdog), has selected “Southern New Mexico cops” No. 1 in a year-end roundup of the “scariest people of 2013.”

Click here to read the entry.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

New Mexico: A state of dependency

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2013-12-30 09:47

DEPENDING ON WASHINGTON: A statistical review shows just how dependent New Mexico is on funding from the federal government.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — New Mexico is one of the most reliant states in the country when it comes to the federal government.

In fact, New Mexico came in first place in two recent studies on Washington spending per state and each year, New Mexico receives more than $13,000 per person from the federal government.

A review by New Mexico Watchdog of selected federal programs and expenditures shows that in many ways, the Land of Enchantment is a land of dependency.

In September, a study from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Fiscal Federalism Initiative, New Mexico came in first place as the state most reliant on government spending.

The study looked at federal grants, procurement, retirement benefits paid out, salaries and wages from federal jobs, as well direct payments to things like Medicare and disability payments. It determined that eight states rely on the federal government for at least 30 percent of their revenue. New Mexico finished No. 1, with more than 35 percent of its gross domestic product coming from Washington.

Earlier this month, New Mexico finished first in another study.

A national survey by two researchers at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found that New Mexico’s economy has the highest percentage of public-sector and government-contract jobs in the country.

Nearly 32 percent of New Mexico’s non-farm payroll employment is attributed to government-financed jobs. The national average is just 19.2 percent. New Mexico came in last with just 68 percent of jobs coming from the private sector.

“It was interesting, for example, to see something like New Mexico pop up there,” said Keith Hall, one of the Mercatus Center researchers. “I know they’ve got some military facilities and a couple of national laboratories. But apparently that makes a bigger impact on a fairly small state like New Mexico than I would have guessed.”

Last year, the financial news and commentary website 24/7 Wall St. looked at the per capita revenue received by each state and found that New Mexico receives the fifth-highest amount in the country — $13,578 per capita.

“New Mexico received more federal funding from the Department of Energy than any other state, with an amount of $4.8 billion,” the website said. “This is due to the three nuclear weapons facilities located within the state.”

The state also got generous payments from the Obama administration when stimulus money was handed out. New Mexico received per capita spending of $1,289 on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That’s more than any of its neighboring states ($985 per capita in Texas; $1,047 in Colorado; $1,054 in Utah; and $1,204 in Arizona).

On an individual level, the numbers are not as stark.

But still, as a proportion, New Mexico participates in a number of government services at a higher rate than other states.

For example, 21 percent of New Mexicans are on food stamps. That’s 6 percent higher than the national average.

When it comes to Social Security disability recipients, New Mexico exceeds the national average. According to the Kaiser Foundation, 2.6 percent of people in the state were Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Beneficiaries with Disabilities, compared to 2.2 percent across the U.S., putting New Mexico in a tie for 11th for the highest rate in the country.

In addition, as New Mexico Watchdog pointed out earlier this year, there’s been a 58.7 percent spike in disability recipients in New Mexico in the past nine years.

In Medicaid enrollment, New Mexico clocks in at 28 percent of the population, sixth-highest in the nation, and seven points higher than the national average of 21 percent.

For Medicare, New Mexico falls exactly at the national average of 16 percent, according to the most recent numbers compiled in 2012.

And when it comes to Social Security beneficiaries, New Mexico also is close to the national average. For the U.S., 18.1 percent of the population receives Social Security benefits while in New Mexico, the percentage is 18.3.

The numbers for individuals on entitlement programs is in large part due to the amount of poverty in the state, while New Mexico’s overall numbers point to the large amount of federal land in the Southwest, plus the number of military bases and two national laboratories (Los Alamos and Sandia) that employ thousands.

But over reliance on the federal government to prop up the state’s economy is a major concern.

“A state like New Mexico may be worried about larger government deficits,” said Hall of the Mercatus Center. “That’s because if deficits continue to grow, that could lead the government to cut spending, and if spending goes down, New Mexico, because of its reliance on federal dollars, will be disproportionately affected.”

Or, as longtime fiscal hawk state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, put it, “In time, I think there’s going to be a reduction in (federal) spending regardless who’s president. I don’t want our state to be the bug on the windshield.”

New Mexico Watchdog has compiled a table how the state compares to national averages in selected studies and statistics:

 

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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