"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

Freedom Works boss: Tea Party ‘stronger, not weaker’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-05-13 09:01

THE PARTY’S NOT OVER: Matt Kibbe, the CEO of the political action group Freedom Works, says the Tea Party’s influence is not waning, but on the rise. NM Watchdog photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

ALBUQUERQUE – They’ve been attacked by Democrats such as Harry Reid as “anarchists,” vilified by the main character on the cable show “The Newsroom” as “the American Taliban” and criticized by some Republicans who point to defeats in Delaware, Indiana and Nevada as possibly costing the party control of the U.S. Senate.

But one of the people responsible for creating the Tea Party says the movement is as strong as ever.

“A lot more of these activists are (focusing) more on local precinct captain divisions, local school boards, state legislators,” said Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of Freedom Works, a political nonprofit based in Washington D.C., that proclaims “lower taxes, less government, more freedom” as its motto.

“So they’ve gone local,” Kibbe told New Mexico Watchdog. “They still think nationally but they’ve focused on the mechanics on a local level. That to me is a sign of a stronger social movement, not a weaker one.”

Kibbe’s group was instrumental in organizing what became the founding event for the Tea Party movement — a Taxpayer March on Washington back on Sept, 12, 2009 that drew hundreds of thousands.

“We had zero advertising,” Kibbe told a crowd of about 75 Monday at a luncheon sponsored by the Rio Grande Foundation. “It was all due to social media … That’s the power of decentralization.”

A little more than a year later, Tea Party favorites such as Rand Paul and Justin Amash were elected to Congress and Republicans took control of the House of Representatives.

But in 2012, Barack Obama won re-election and since then, there’s been plenty of speculation that the Tea Party is losing steam.

WHERE IT STARTED: A Taxpayers March on Washington in 2009 marked the beginning of the Tea Party movement.

While Kibbe emphasizes that Freedom Works and the Tea Party movement are independent — “They don’t work for us and we don’t work for them” — Kibbe thinks the Tea Party’s principles are alive and well.

“Very strong support for the Tea Party runs about 30 percent,” Kibbe said. “But if you look at the issues that we fight for — balancing the budget, limiting federal power, defending individual liberty — those issues are trending dramatically in the United States, in large part as a reaction against the Obama administration.”

But does the Tea Party split Republican power?

John McCain and Lindsey Graham have criticized some Tea Party-identified candidates such as Ted Cruz and Speaker of the House John Boehner has wrestled with the Tea Party caucus in the House.

“We don’t win ‘em all,” Kibbe said. “But what’s different is the extraordinary shift in the conversation … we’re all talking about the national debt, we’re talking about overreach in Obamacare. And if you if you look at the polling going into (the 2014 elections), it’s our issues that define this election.”

In New Mexico, a move to replace then-Speaker of the House Ben Luján with a more conservative Democrat was undermined when Tea Party chapters in the southern part of the state pressured Republicans to reject a power-sharing coalition, citing the chapters’ opposition to abortion. Luján survived and many of the GOP members later regretted the decision.

“There are certainly a lot of pro-life tea partiers,” Kibbe said. “But generally speaking, they don’t work on those issues as a group … It shifts and flows and I think that’s where its power comes from. It’s not directed from any top-down organization.”

A Grateful Dead aficionado, microbrew maven and fan of the movie, “The Big Lebowski,” Kibbe is a self-identified libertarian. His most recent book, “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff,” is called a manifesto of the virtues of small government. But he’s also a registered Republican. Which one comes first?

“They’re two different things,” Kibbe said. “I’m a small ‘l’ libertarian because libertarianism is a set of values and a philosophy. Republicans are a political party. And quite often, political parties are empty vessels that can be filled with ideas. I think on rare occasions in my life, Republican Party has lived up that standard.”

Kibbe’s book features “Six Rules for Liberty.”

“Saul Alinsky had 13 rules,” in Alinsky’s book, “Rules for Radicals,” Kibbe told the crowd Monday. “I came up with six.”

Among Kibbe’s rules? Honoring the importance of hard work — something that the actor Ashton Kutcher expressed earlier this year.

“He said, ‘opportunity looks a lot like hard work,’ ” Kibbe said. “He’s basically saying, ‘No one’s going to give this to you. You gotta go get it.’ That was controversial in Hollywood but it’s sort of a common sense notion that even a movie star got and that’s a good thing.”

Here’s the New Mexico Watchdog interview with Kibbe:

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

VIDEO: Discussion on NM Watchdog’s story on per-pupil spending UPDATE: ABQ Journal also picks up story

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-05-09 15:41

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

Are New Mexico taxpayers getting enough bang for their buck when it comes to spending on education?

That’s a logical question to ask after a New Mexico Watchdog story posted earlier this week reported that while student outcomes continue near the bottom in national rankings, New Mexico is ranked 20th in the nation when it comes to per-pupil spending. Click here to read the story.

The Watchdog report, as well as another story on higher education spending, was brought up in a “web extra” edition of “New Mexico In Focus,” the weekly public affairs program seen in most parts of the state on KNME-TV.

Joining moderator Gene Grant on the panel was Rob Nikolewski of New Mexico Watchdog, former New Mexico Lt. Governor Diane Denish, former state Rep. Dan Foley and attorney Sophie Martin:

At 7 p.m. Friday night, the one-hour broadcast edition of New Mexico In Focus will be aired on KNME, Channel 5 and will be repeated on Saturday on Channel 9.1 and Sunday at 7 a.m. on Channel 5.1.

Update 5/12: The state’s largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, also picked up the story on Monday and put it on the front page, above the fold:

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


Core beliefs: NM education chief defends Common Core

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-05-09 11:02

HEARING IT FROM BOTH ENDS: Critics of Common Core come both the right and the left sides of the political spectrum.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — As the Common Core Standards Initiative gets implemented across the country, complaints are piling up on both ends of the political spectrum.

In education circles, a sardonic joke is making the rounds: Conservatives hate the “common” and liberals hate the “core.”

New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera defends the initiative, saying it’s a vital tool to streamline K-12 standards and ensure that students are actually learning what they need to learn in a competitive 21st century environment.

“Right now we spend over $20 million (in New Mexico) for high school graduates who go on to college … and have to take remediation courses,” Skandera told New Mexico Watchdog in an interview at the PED offices in Santa Fe. “We’re not delivering on the promise of, ‘are you ready?’ We know half of our kids are not on grade level. So (Common Core) is an important step to say, let’s make sure we have high standards.”

Common Core was created in 2009 by governors, education secretaries and legislators across the country. It came largely in response to complaints about the No Child Left Behind Act that passed Congress with bi-partisan support during the administration of George W. Bush.

Some 44 states and the District of Columbia signed off on Common Core as a better way to measure student outcomes across the board, focusing on math and what’s called ELA — English language arts/literacy.

The criticisms about Common Core are relatively muted in New Mexico.

A poll of 157 New Mexico teachers conducted last summer showed that 81 percent believed “the standards will have a positive impact on students’ ability to think critically and use reasoning skills” and just 1 percent thought Common Core will have a negative impact.

But in other parts of the country, the rumbling has developed into a roar.

Two months ago, Indiana dropped out of Common Core, with a Republican state legislator calling it “a cookie-cutter education system.” Oklahoma is considering dropping out.

For some conservatives, Common Core represents a top-down edict coming from Washington that horns in on individual states.

“This is the thin end of an enormous wedge of federal power that will be wielded for the constant progressive purpose of concentrating power in Washington so that it can impose continental solutions to problems nationwide,” said columnist George Will earlier this week on Fox News.

DEFENDING THE CORE: New Mexico Public Education Department secretary-designate Hanna Skandera says Common Core helps to ensure students are learning what they need to learn.

“I disagree wholeheartedly about this idea that it’s a top-down decision,” Skandera said. “It’s a decision about what’s best for our kids and it’s made here, at the local level, in the state of New Mexico.”

“Sooner or later, you inevitably have a national curriculum,” Will said.

“When it comes to curriculum, it’s decided at the local level,” Skandera countered, adding, “There is nothing about Common Core that’s about curriculum. Common Core is about the standards.”

At the same time, some liberals complain that Common Core’s implementation has been botched and call it inflexible and too dependent on test-taking.

In a reflection of our celebrity culture, a Twitter rant against Common Core by comedian Louis C.K. was picked up last week by New Yorker magazine and has received wide distribution, especially on progressive media outlets.

“My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!” the comedian posted.

“Since Gov. Martinez has come into office we’ve reduced testing time by an average of 30 minutes per grade,” Skandera said. “And we will maintain that commitment when we transition to Common Core. Increased testing is not the case, it’s not now and won’t be when we adopt Common Core.”

Some teachers unions, who liked Common Core when it was introduced, are now backtracking.

On Thursday, the Chicago Teachers Union voted to oppose Common Core standards.

“Common Core eliminates creativity in the classroom and impedes collaboration,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “We also know that high-stakes standardized testing is designed to rank and sort our children and it contributes significantly to racial discrimination and the achievement gap among students in America’s schools.”

“Our unions are beginning to waver on that message,” Skandera said. “I think the flip-flop is coming because we’re bringing in accountability. You can’t have high standards and not measure whether or not you’re reaching them.”

The Obama administration has backed Common Core standards, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan saying last June, “I believe the Common Core State Standards may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown versus Board of Education.”

Last November, Duncan had to apologize after he said some of Common Core’s criticism come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

To try to beat back the criticism, the Common Core website has a page devoted to countering what it says are the myths versus the facts of the program.

The Common Core debate has plenty of political ironies for Skandera.

ON BOARD: Hanna Skandera (back left) attending an announcement by Barack Obama in 2011 about waivers issued to states on No Child Left Behind.

New Mexico adopted Common Core in 2010, in the final months of the administration of Democrat Bill Richardson.

“Our commitment to Common Core state standards has bridged two administrations from different parties,” Skandera said.

Throughout her tenure at PED, she has been pilloried by unions and some teachers (at a rally last fall, a sign was displayed depicting Skandera and Martinez with fangs, dripping with blood) and lambasted by some Roundhouse Democrats (Skandera still has not received an up or down vote on her nomination in the full Senate).

Yet Skandera said she’s in full support of the Obama administration and Duncan’s backing of higher standards in general and Common Core in particular. In her office is a framed copy of a newspaper front page with a photo of President Obama announcing state waivers on No Child Left Behind with Skandera in the background.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about delivering on a promise for what’s in the best interests of our kids,” Skandera said. “We made that commitment, we’ll keep it.”

But the criticism isn’t letting up.

After Indiana backed out, a critic predicted other states will follow.

The “water is warm, come on in,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes Common Core.

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

Still no word on which state will win the Tesla ‘giga-factory’ sweepstakes

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-05-07 16:39

NO DECISION YET: Tesla owner and billionaire Elon Musk won’t say which states are still in the running for a “giga-factory” that promises to employ 6,500 workers.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – The Tesla tease continues.

There was speculation that Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk would announce on Wednesday two potential locations for a $5 billion “giga-factory” that promises to employ 6,500 workers to assemble lithium-ion batteries in the company’s electric cars but in an investors call, Musk did not winnow the field of four states — including New Mexico — that are in the running.

In fact, he confirmed reports that California is a fifth state in the running, sort of.

“California is improbable but not impossible,” Musk said. California is the home state of Tesla’s headquarters but Musk said he’s concerned about regulations in California potentially delaying the building of the giga-factory.

“It’s not so much the incentives but how fast the site can be completed,” Musk said, adding that the company can’t afford to wait a year or more for a permit before proceeding.

“In other states, it’s much more streamlined,” Musk said.

But one thing that did come out of Wednesday’s call? A decision is coming very soon.

Last week, Musk said the company will announce two potential sites for the factory to lower the risk that one site may not work out. On Wednesday, Musk said he plans to break ground on the first giga-factory site “next month” and “one to months after that, we’ll break ground on the second.”

So it’s still “hurry up and wait” for government officials in New Mexico — along with Nevada, Texas, Arizona and now, California.

The size of the Tesla project has spurred furious speculation inside the states in contention for the plant, with business insiders handicapping the fiscal strengths and weaknesses of each state and what kind of incentive package they can produce to lure Musk.

Nevada, for example, is considered a strong contender because it has no state income tax, is adjacent to California and is home to a lithium mine.

Among New Mexico’s potential advantages? It’s the home of Spaceport America, where Musk’s SpaceX rocket company already has a lease to flight-test a reusable rocket program. Plus, the state has recently cut the corporate tax rate to go along with New Mexico’s renewable energy tax credit.

As for New Mexico’s disadvantages? One industry expert pointed out that New Mexico was the only one of the four contenders that is not a right-to-work state– where workers can decided for themselves if they want to join a labor union or not.

“New Mexico would be wise to move in that direction and do what Indiana and Michigan did and become right to a work state,” John Boyd Jr., the president of a company in New Jersey that works with companies on site selection, told KOAT-TV.

“States give huge incentives to get this kind of business in their regions,” Jakki Mohr, marketing instructor at the University of Montana, told www.marketplace.org earlier this week, and this is a way of “playing one state against another to receive better incentives to locate there.”

Back in February when Tesla announced that New Mexico was one of the finalists, New Mexico Economic Development Director Jon Barela said winning the Tesla contract “would be a transformational opportunity for this state” and, “we would covet a project like this.”

Barela said he could not reveal any details of what New Mexico might offer to lure Tesla, citing confidentiality provisions in such negotiations.

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

NM is 20th in per-pupil spending, but near the bottom in results

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-05-06 14:18

NO. 20 AND RISING: An annual study done by the National Education Association shows New Mexico jumped from 25th to 20th in per-pupil spending in the past year.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — For years, New Mexico has finished near the bottom in national educational measurements such as reading and math, which has led to calls from some interest groups to increase student spending.

But according to an annual study by the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the country, New Mexico ranks 20th in per-pupil spending.

That’s five notches higher than last year, when New Mexico ranked 25th in expenditures for public schools per student in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The NEA’s “Rankings of the States 2013 and Estimates of School Statistics 2014″ came out this spring showing New Mexico spent $11,019 per student for the 2012-2013 school year. That’s 20th in the country and slightly above the U.S. average of $10,938 and above the national median of $10,251:

The per-pupil figure is $816 higher than last year’s NEA study, reported by New Mexico Watchdog, that showed the state spending $10,203 per student.

What’s more, NEA researchers this year ranked New Mexico sixth in the nation for per capita state government expenditures for all education, which included higher education.

In the 19 measurements of school expenditures done by the NEA study, New Mexico finished in the top 10 in the nation in six categories and finished in the top half in 17.

New Mexico’s lowest finish was 26th in the nation in two measurements of expenditures per K-12 students who are listed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Click here to read the entire NEA study and see pages 52-58 for the data on school spending by state.)

State Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, said he’s in favor of increasing spending on public education, adding that the NEA study doesn’t change his mind.

“We’re spending a lot of money but you’ve got to remember, we have a lot more needs,” Alcon told New Mexico Watchdog. “We have so many different cultures in our state, and that makes it difficult to teach.”

But the NEA numbers did not surprise state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.

“John Q. Public really has no idea of how much financial effort that the taxpayers and the citizens have poured into this and are still waiting for different outcomes,” Smith said. “The issue that puzzles me the most is that when suggestions come on how we should change things, there’s an outcry and the final result is, let’s keep doing the same thing.”

Charles Goodmacher, government relations director for NEA-New Mexico, didn’t dispute the national NEA numbers, but said the state should spend more money on education.

“If other (states) are underfunding too, then that doesn’t mean we’re doing a good job of funding because we’re funding at a higher level than they are,” Goodmacher said.

Goodmacher said New Mexico’s high poverty rates means many students have to deal with more out-of-school issues than children in other states.

“That requires more spending per pupil to make up for,” he said. “There are so many extra services that are needed in New Mexico to have the students ready physically as well as emotionally.”

New Mexico’s fourth-grade reading scores in 2013 were lower than those in 49 other states, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the state’s fourth-grade math scores were lower than 46 other states.

About the same time the NEA released its findings, a scholar from the Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C., made headlines by claiming there is no correlation between school spending and academic achievement.

In his study of academic performance during the past four decades, Andrew Coulson concluded that despite large increases in spending , “the takeaway from this study is that what we’ve done over the past 40 years hasn’t worked. The average performance change nationwide has declined 3 percent in mathematical and verbal skills.”

New Mexico Voices for Children, which has long advocated for increased spending for public schools, disagreed.

“The Cato report assumes that education money is spent the same way it was in the 1960s and ’70s,” the organization said in an email. “In fact, schools have been mandated to provide many more services — special education, after-school programs, computer sciences, etc. — and today’s classrooms require much more technology than they did in the days of the mimeograph.”

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

US leads the way in drop in global greenhouse gas emissions

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-05-06 10:22

CUTTING DOWN ON EMISSIONS: An increased use of natural gas has helped the U.S. drop its greenhouse gas emissions to its lowest amount since 1994.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – There’s been plenty written about the amount of greenhouse gases getting pumped into the atmosphere but a recent international study shows the amount coming from industrialized nations is actually declining — and the U.S. is leading the way.

Compiling data submitted to the United Nations, the Reuters news agency determined that greenhouse gas emissions fell by 1.3 percent in 2012, with the U.S. reporting a decrease of 3.4 percent — down to 6.5 billion tons, the lowest amount since 1994.

“The fall was linked to low natural gas prices, helped by a shale gas boom and a shift from coal,” Reuters reported.

“The success story is the declining emissions in the United States,” said Glen Peters, of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway.

New Mexico has one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world, located in the San Juan Basin in the northwestern part of the state. Natural gas producers have been calling on the Obama administration to increase and develop liquefied natural gas exports to foreign countries such as Japan.

The report said the European Union saw a dip in emissions of 1.3 percent in 2012 to 4.5 billion tons. That’s down 19.2 percent from 1990 levels, the European Environment Agency said.

But there’s concern that emissions from emerging nations such as China, Brazil and India are more than making up for the reductions seen in the U.S. and other industrialized nations.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for cutting global greenhouse gas emissions of 3 percent per year and Corinne Le Quere, professor of climate change at Britain’s University of East Anglia, said far tougher action was needed.

“It requires a transformation in the way we use energy,” she said.

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

Is the $5 million solar project in Santa Fe a good investment?

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-05-05 16:50

LONG-TERM INVESTMENT: Santa Fe Community College has spent $5 million from a taxpayer-approved bond to build a solar array. Is it a good investment? Photo from SFCC website.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — Santa Fe Community College has just unveiled a solar array that it says will save the college at least $200,000 a year on its utility bills.

But the array, funded by taxpayers in a 2010 bond election, will cost $5 million.

You don’t have to be a math major at the college to figure out it would take 25 years of $200,000 cost savings per year to reach the $5 million mark for the project to just break even.

So is the solar array a good deal?

SFCC interim president Randy Grissom thinks so.

First off, Grissom told New Mexico Watchdog the college expects to save more than $200,000 a year on utility bills.

“We took a really conservative approach in doing our analysis,” Grissom said. “We anticipate it will be between $200,000 to $300,000 (a year in savings).”

But even at $300,000 a year, it would take almost 17 years to break even, right?

“We did a ‘net present value’ analysis of the project,” Grissom said, adding that the analysis showed “a gain of $1.5 million” over the life of the solar array, which, Grissom says, is guaranteed to last 25 years.

But given some of the solar industry’s problems in recent years, some taxpayers have reason to be skeptical.

For example, in summer 2012, after getting $16 million in grants from the state, Schott Solar shut down its manufacturing plant in south Albuquerque and laid off 250 workers. New Mexico taxpayers had to eat more than $12 million because the administration of then-Gov. Bill Richardson did not include any clawback provisions in the deal with Schott.

Taxpayers also got stuck losing millions in 2009, when Advent Solar went belly-up, despite receiving nearly $17 million through the State Investment Council and its private equity arm.

Nationally, the Brookings Institution reported the U.S. government has allocated more than $150 billion to green initiatives since 2009, and the International Energy Agency estimates nations across the globe have made more than $2 trillion in renewable energy investments in the past 20 years.

“There’s too little to show from the investments, however,” Wall Street Journal reporter Gregory Zuckerman wrote in his book, “The Frackers,” about the oil and gas industry in the U.S.

“Cars don’t run on waste, and wind and solar aren’t yet ready to power the world,” Zuckerman said. “Instead, a group of frackers, relying on market cues rather than government direction, achieved dramatic advances by focusing on fossil fuels, of all things. It’s a stark reminder that breakthroughs in the business world usually are achieved through incremental advances, often in the face of deep skepticism, rather than government-inspired eureka moments.”

But SFCC’s Grissom, who said, “we worked on projects like this all the time” when he used to be a vice-president of a technology business at General Electric 14 years ago, said he’s confident of a positive return on investment in the $5 million solar array.

“We went through the whole process to make sure this was a good project for the college to do,” Grissom said. “Not only is it good for the college, but for the taxpayers.”

Grissom said analysis for the project included renewable energy credits the college will rack up from PNM, the state’s largest electric utility, and conservatively predicted modest 1 percent annual increases in energy rates. With energy increases usually higher than that, SFCC claims the project will be a financial winner.

In addition, Grissom said the solar array has an important educational element for SFCC students, who can earn certificates as solar installers, designers and sales people.

“This will save money the over the long-term, and that money can go back to the students, rather than paying utility bills,” Grissom said.

Earlier this year, the SFCC Governing Board came under fire for spending $500,000 in taxpayer money to oust former president Ana “Cha” Guzmán. Grissom has been named the school’s interim president and has expressed his desire to fill the job permanently.

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

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