Errors of Enchantment Blog Postings

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Why is New Mexico not realizing its potential?
Updated: 21 sec ago

ObamaCare destroys another health care choice in New Mexico

Tue, 2015-09-15 16:51

In a free market, choice is the order of the day. Quality and low prices also predominate when personal choice and the freedom to compete dominate. In fact, Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who obviously is not a fan of free markets famously said, “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country.”

Unfortunately, the health care marketplace was heavily regulated before Obama became President and his “ObamaCare” health law has further restricted choices. As today’s Albuquerque Journal explains, New Mexico Health Connections will now offer only health maintenance organization plans, or HMOs, which restrict participants to a contracted provider network.

According to the article, Health Connection’s decision, coupled with an earlier decision by Blue Cross Blue Shield to largely pull out of the individual market, means about 23,900 people with PPO plans on and off the exchange will have to find new coverage for 2016.

Again, the promise of ObamaCare is far from reality, an issue that led the liberal-leading Politifact to call Obama’s promise “lie of the year.”

Rio Grande Foundation Signs Amicus Brief in US Supreme Court Friedrichs Case on Worker Freedom

Mon, 2015-09-14 15:28

The next big case coming to the US Supreme Court is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. At issue is whether the current practice in non-“right to work,” forced-union states of requiring workers to pay union agency fees for the privilege of being a public employee violates the First Amendment rights of workers. This case has the potential to guarantee the right to work for public employees in all 50 states. In other words, it would free government workers who don’t want to be associated with a union from having to pay dues in support of that union.

The full text of the amicus brief can be found here.

Interestingly enough, some New Mexico “first responders” took the opportunity presented by the marking of the 14th anniversary of 9/11 to inveigh against the concept of “right to work.”

As the article noted, “Albuquerque firefighter and former state representative Emily Kane spoke about how the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center provided opportunities to better serve those in such an attack. She said after the first attack, union officials provided an ‘ability to communicate’ with building officials and first responders and subsequently implement more fire drills and better radio communication.”

So, “right to work” is bad because…9/11. Aside from the fact that New Mexico is not New York City and is far less likely to be attacked by terrorists, I simply can’t fathom how forcing all public employees to pay union dues really makes them or us safer. We’ll see what the US Supreme Court has to say when it hears the case.

Left and Right Should Agree to Reform Occupational Licensing

Mon, 2015-09-14 09:41

The Rio Grande Foundation is an unabashedly free market organization, often labeled “conservative.” That doesn’t mean that we don’t agree with the political left on various policy issues, but it does mean that opportunities for such agreement require an honest assessment of reform opportunities and principles.

An ever-growing area on which left and right might agree is occupational licensing and the ever-increasing thicket of regulations facing workers as they attempt to make an honest living. This has been an issue of interest to free market advocates going back to the 1970s and economist Milton Friedman.

In a sign that at least some liberals are starting to see Friedman’s point of view, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors recently released a report called “Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers.”

The report detailed some of the very real problems with occupational licensing. As the paper concluded:

There is evidence that licensing requirements raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities, and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across State lines. Too often, policymakers do not carefully weigh these costs and benefits when making decisions about whether or how to regulate a profession through licensing.

Furthermore, as the report noted, there has been an explosion in the area of professional licensing. More than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with most of these workers licensed by the states. The share of workers licensed at the State level has risen five-fold since the 1950s. About two-thirds of this increase stems from an increase in the number of professions that require a license.

Given New Mexico’s historical lack of economic freedom, it is no surprise that the Land of Enchantment has onerous regulations on workers. A 2012 report by the libertarian Institute for Justice, New Mexico is the ninth most broadly and onerously licensed state with the 12th most burdensome licensing laws.

According to the report, New Mexico has higher barriers for more occupations than most states. Fifty two of the 102 low- to moderate-income occupations studied are licensed in New Mexico.

The state also has above-average education or experience requirements for other occupations. For example, aspiring pest control applicators and vegetation pesticide handlers lose two years to experience before receiving a license. Thirty two states have no experience requirement for pest control applicators, and 39 states have none for vegetation pesticide handlers. Fire and security alarm installers lose two years to experience, compared to averages of less than a year-and-a half among the 34 states that require licenses.

New Mexico’s mania for licensing doesn’t just harm consumers; it harms those trying to turn their lives around after a brush with the law. Under the New Mexico Criminal Offender Employment Act, even convictions not directly related to the occupation are grounds for ineligibility for obtaining an employment license.

One solution is to allow ex-offenders to obtain provisional licenses that are valid for a shorter period of time and subject to immediate revocation if they commit a new offense, violate a term of probation or parole, or violate a rule of the occupation. Such provisional licenses provide a positive incentive for success while still holding the ex-offender accountable. A few years ago Texas lawmakers specified in law that a provisional license becomes a permanent license after six months if the license holder is in full compliance.

Given the negative impact professional licensing has on middle and lower-income workers and those convicted of crimes, we would love to see a left-right coalition both among policy organizations and legislators coalesce on this issue in New Mexico.

An added benefit of a cross-partisan regulatory reform effort is that it could boost New Mexico’s lagging economy.

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

An interesting listen: labor unions and the downfall of the American auto industry

Fri, 2015-09-11 15:32

This American Life is a radio show that appears on NPR. In other words, it is hardly right-wing, but in July of this year there was an interesting show on the American auto industry (click to listen) which included some very candid statements about unions (including many from former union members).

If you’d rather read than listen, the transcript can be found here. I have included some of the most stunning statements below:

• Compared to Japan, where auto workers and management worked together, labor relations in America were more like war.

• A former running back from the University of Arkansas named Bruce Lee ran the western region for the United Auto Workers, and was in charge of the Fremont Union Local 1364. Now, normally, somebody like Bruce Lee is supposed to defend his union members no matter what, but even he says they were awful.

Bruce Lee (speaking)
“It was considered the worst workforce in the automobile industry in the United States. And it was a reputation that was well-earned. Everything was a fight.

They spent more time on grievances and on things like that than they did on producing cars. They had strikes all the time. It was just chaos constantly.”

One of the expressions was, you can buy anything you want in the GM plant in Fremont. If you want sex, if you want drugs, if you want alcohol, it’s there. During breaks, during lunchtime, if you want to gamble illegally– any illegal activity was available for the asking within that plant.

Frank Langfitt (speaking)
Sounds like prison.

Jeffrey Liker (speaking)
Actually, the analogy to prison is a good analogy, because the workers were stuck there because they could not find anything close to that level of job and pay and benefits at their level of education and skill. So they were trapped there.

And they also felt like we have a job for life, and the union will always protect us. So we’re stuck here, and it’s long term. And then all these illegal things crop up, so we can entertain ourselves while we’re stuck here.

Rick Madrid (speaking)
A lot of booze on the line. I mean, it was just amazing. And as long as you did your job, they really didn’t care.

• If you’re wondering how people kept their jobs, well, back then, the UAW was still quite powerful. Under the union contract, it was almost impossible to fire anybody. And if management ticked off the union, workers could just shut the plant down in minutes.
With that sort of leverage, absenteeism became absurd. On a normal day, one out of five workers just didn’t show up. It was even worse on Mondays. Billy Haggerty worked in hood and fender assembly. He says so few workers showed up some mornings, management couldn’t start the line.

Makes “right to work” sound a lot more pro-labor and pro-business and the unions a lot less sympathetic.

Talking the Tea Party, and Transportation

Fri, 2015-09-11 13:48

The Foundation’s biweekly radio program, the New Mexico Freedom Hour, airs tomorrow at noon on KKOB.

Guests in the first half hour will be Will Summers and Rick Harbaugh of the Albuquerque Tea Party. The group is holding its annual fundraiser later this month, with Mark Meckler, co-founder of the the Convention of States Project, as speaker.

The Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole, soon to appear in Albuquerque, will call in for the second half hour. The transportation and land-use scholar will discuss the city’s proposed bus rapid transit project, as well as the Rail Runner, and other issues related to how New Mexico moves both people and cargo.

The New Mexico Freedom Hour can be streamed online here.

How Planning and Zoning Kills Jobs

Wed, 2015-09-09 17:46

Earlier today, Corrales MainStreet conducted a work-study session with councilors regarding a draft plan for “economic development” in the village. As expected, there was much discussion of, as the Corrales Comment put it, “eligibility for programs and incentives through the N.M. Local Economic Development Act.”

But Mayor Scott Kominiak made some points that would surely put smiles on the faces of advocates for the free market. Kominiak noted that in his deep-blue municipality, NIMBYism is rampant. The mayor added that the village has “a very unfriendly planning and zoning process.”

That reminded us of an Albuquerque Journal article published earlier this year. The piece examined “the stack of land-use policies and plans intended to govern growth” in the city. Planning Director Suzanne Lubar, in an interview with reporter Dan McKay, offered a grisly assessment: “Nobody has a true sense of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. It’s not very predictable. … I had developers calling and saying, ‘I will never do a development in your city again.'”

Despite the groupthink of New Mexico’s economic-development establishment, taxpayer largesse is not the only tool for boosting jobs and entrepreneurship the state. (It’s not even an effective tool, but let’s leave that for another day.) A deep dive into and significant revision of unnecessary and unworkable regulations promises a sizable payback.

New Mexico’s Cartel Federalism

Wed, 2015-09-09 12:49

The folks at the Mercatus Center, a free market think tank at George Mason University, have come out with a new report comparing US states and how their versions of “federalism,” the interaction between state and federal governments, enhances or reduces liberty.

According to the report which can be found here, “it is surely reasonable to wonder how two sources of political power within the same territory can be more favorable to liberty than one. It turns out that the pro-liberty quality of federalism is a possible but not a necessary feature. This essay explores this two-edged quality of federalism to discern more clearly the relationship between federalism and liberty. It also examines how the erosion of federal liberty that has been underway for around a century might be amended in a pro-liberty direction.”

As patterns go, the “cartel” states tend to be “blue” states (like New Mexico) but there is far less of a pattern with regard to other states. One thing New Mexico policymakers should consider doing to reduce the “cartel” aspects of its economic system is to eliminate (or at least reduce) occupational licensing as Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers recently urged.

Hope, Change, and ‘Early Childhood Education’

Tue, 2015-09-08 16:04

New Mexico’s junior senator had a particularly cloying — and fact-free — Labor Day message for his constituents.

In his first sentence, Martin Heinrich got the origin of the holiday wrong. Labor Day, in the senator’s shopworn morality play, was created to recognize “workers and the labor movement’s fight for fair wages and better working conditions.” But as historian Thaddeus Russell observed, “In 1884, when President Grover Cleveland signed the bill making Labor Day a national holiday … he and its sponsors intended it … as a promotion of the great American work ethic. Work, they believed, was the highest calling in life, and Labor Day was a reminder to get back to it. It was placed at the end of summer to declare an end to the season of indolence, and also to distance it from May Day, the spring event that had become a symbol of the radical labor movement.”

In addition to flunking history, Heinrich’s endorsement of “early childhood education” was an indication of how clueless the fedpol is on the realities of preschool.

Grover Whitehurst, a scholar with the liberal Brookings Institution, has found “weak evidence behind the groundswell of advocacy for public investments in statewide universal pre-k.” Research has repeatedly shown that whatever small gains preschool produces vanish within a few years. (It’s known as the “fadeout effect.”)

Last week, one of the nation’s top teacher-union bosses was in Albuquerque, to pitch a $175 million preschool plan. Calling it a tool to “build a middle class in America,” she touted the scheme as a “really exciting ground-up innovation.”

Nonsense. Real innovations aimed at boosted the well-being of students would assault family fragmentation and violent crime in New Mexico.

In Utah, where test scores are high, state taxpayers don’t fund a dime of preschool. But the Beehive State is a very different place than the Land of Enchantment. Both have underclasses, of course, but Utah’s illegitimacy rate in less than half of New Mexico’s. The violent-crime rate in our state is nearly three times what it is in our neighbor to the northwest.

Democrats and Republicans from coast to coast have been suckered into supporting massive “investments” in preschool. The results have been abysmal — and served to distract from the true causes of underachievement in education.

Options for reforming Albuquerque Public Schools

Tue, 2015-09-08 10:59

There are several issues facing the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) including the recent departure of Superintendent Valentino. Unfortunately, there are few ideas for reforming the school district. This blog posting will consider some ideas for reforming New Mexico’s largest school district.

1) Split APS into two or more districts. APS is a large (31st-largest in the nation), sprawling district with urban, rural, and suburban schools. Some argue that the district is too bureaucratic and top-heavy to succeed. Our take is that it may help to shake things up, but there is little data on how an additional school, smaller school district would improve outcomes.

2) Winthrop Quigley of the Albuquerque Journal recently noted that New Mexico has a state-wide funding formula with most decisions made in Santa Fe (and most money flowing from there). We at the Rio Grande Foundation support decentralization and would prefer to see both school funding and decisions made at the local level. One doesn’t work without the other though.

Quigley makes some important points about the problems at APS and with the centralized funding mechanism that New Mexico uses. Unfortunately, the centralized model has been spreading to other states due to funding equity issues and the lawsuits that have been rather successful in recent years in forcing more centralized educational systems in other states. Our take is that more decentralized funding and decision-making systems are a good thing, but it’s not likely to be done in New Mexico due to rampant inequality in potential funding.

3) Follow New Orleans and go to a system of all charter schools in APS. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, all of New Orleans’ schools were “charterized.” In other words, New Orleans achieved decentralization by simply changing the way the schools were managed.

As seen in the chart below, the charters spurred dramatically-improved education performance in New Orleans schools. Perhaps APS could see similar performance gains by moving to all-charters? Our take is that this is the solution that must be considered to reform APS. As bad as the Valentino has been, it was not as impactful as Hurricane Katrina. Making the dramatic move to an all-charter district would definitely upset the status-quo.

Bus Rapid Transit and Millennial Myth-Making

Fri, 2015-09-04 12:20

Several Millennials were in the audience at last night’s forum on the profoundly unwise proposal for “Albuquerque Rapid Transit.” The group seemed to support, in lockstep fashion, bus rapid transit along Central Avenue — particularly the project’s alleged value as way to retain and attract young professionals to the city’s core.

Clearly, they weren’t aware of it, but the attendees were not at all representative of their generation. Earlier this year, the National Association of Home Builders released a survey of where those born since 1977 want to live. Urban environments were not popular:

Furthermore, transit-as-catnip-for-Millennials was dealt a serious blow by a 2014 analysis by City Observatory. Between 2000 and 2012, the six metro regions that transportation scholar Wendell Cox calls “transit legacy cities” expanded their young, college-educated populations by an average of 20.8 percent. That growth was dwarfed by the performance of “sprawling” metro regions such as Houston (49.8 percent), Orlando (43.3 percent), Nashville (47.6 percent), San Antonio (50.5 percent), Oklahoma City (56.8 percent), Jacksonville (44.8 percent), and Las Vegas (72.8 percent).

Finally, a few months ago, Bloomberg reported that “Millennials … accounted for 27 percent of new car sales in the U.S. last year, up from 18 percent in 2010, according to J.D. Power & Associates. They’ve zoomed past Gen X to become the second-largest group of new car buyers after their boomer parents. Millennials are starting to find jobs and relocating to the suburbs and smaller cities, where public transport is spotty.”

Bus rapid transit discussion takes a turn…for the better

Fri, 2015-09-04 10:01

The Rio Grande Foundation had planned on hosting a debate on the Berry Administration’s bus rapid transit system for Central Avenue. Then, at the last second, Paul Silverman (my expected debate opponent and a supporter of the plan) backed out.

So, after spending many hours frantically calling the City, City Council, and a dozen or so other supporters of the plan, I went ahead with a community discussion of the event which wound up being attended by 80-100 folks last night at the UNM Law School. The room was rather evenly split between supporters and opponents and D’Val Westphal, author of the “Road Warrior” columns in the Albuquerque Journal and a member of that paper’s editorial board helped moderate the discussion.

Overall, as Dan McKay pointed out in an article following the debate, the discussion was both well-informed and spirited. In other words, I’m glad we did it. Having the additional time and opportunity for concerned citizens to weigh in made the event a big success regardless of the format.

It is clear that the City needs to engage directly with citizens to get more input and better illustrate what the proposal means for mobility along Central. The controlled “open-house” dog and pony shows aren’t enough. Transforming the most iconic and recognizable street in Albuquerque without a vote of City Council or informed buy-in from the citizenry is a huge mistake.

Channel 13 KRQE also covered the event here. Lastly, there is a grassroots organization that has sprung up in opposition to the BRT called Save RT 66 where you can take action by contacting policymakers. They can be reached by email as well at:

Intel, Public Health, and ‘Pollution’

Thu, 2015-09-03 15:08

Last night’s meeting about public health and Intel’s plant in Rio Rancho, held at the Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, was … interesting.

Two officials with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Public Health Service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, presented their findings on air quality and the chip-fabrication factory.

Several residents in the area have convinced themselves that their maladies are due to “pollution” emanating from the plant. But after years of analysis — a process that the ATSDR admitted took “too long” — the agency released its “final public health consultation” last month.

It was somewhat disappointing that inadequate data rendered the ATSDR unable to “draw health conclusions” about volatile organic compounds and acid aerosols. Similarly, the agency could not verify an “increased rate” of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), since the “prevalence rate of ALS has not been well established and sufficient reporting data are not currently available.” More research is needed.

But scientists did determine that “measured levels of carbon dioxide … were below levels of health concern,” and the community is not “exposed to elevated levels of crystalline silica.” Furthermore, an “epidemiologic investigation” by the New Mexico Health Department “did not observe a cluster of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.”

A peer reviewer summarized the report’s bottom line: “[T]here are very little if any health effects posed by environmental emissions from the Intel facility.”

Rest assured, that won’t be good enough for the ecochondriacs who are convinced that Intel is sickening them, and that state officials — and now, possibly the feds — are in on the conspiracy. Activists’ militancy, well-covered by media outlets, doesn’t advertise greater Albuquerque as an attractive place for manufacturers to make investments.

Who Supports Bus Rapid Transit in ABQ? ‘You’ Do!

Wed, 2015-09-02 13:39

Tomorrow evening, Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing will debate developer Paul Silverman about the merits of bus rapid transit in Albuquerque.

The Foundation’s position on the ill-advised project was outlined in an issue brief released in July. Nonetheless, in defiance of sound public policy and broad opposition by property owners along the route, the city has formally requested federal funding for Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART).

In reviewing the city’s voluminous application, the “Letters of Support” section caught our eye. Dozens of high-ranking officials on the payrolls of municipal, county, and state bureaucracies endorsed the project. Here’s the list:

* Harold Caba, New Mexico Department of Health

* Tom Church, New Mexico Department of Transportation

* Ken Hughes, New Mexico Department of Energy

* Dewey V. Cave, Mid-Region Council of Governments

* Terry Doyle, Rio Metro Regional Transit District

* Olivia Padilla-Jackson, City of Albuquerque

* Beatriz Rivera, Department of Cultural Services, City of Albuquerque

* Dean Smith, Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library

* Gary Oppedahl, Economic Development Department, City of Albuquerque

* Robert G. Frank, University of New Mexico

* Christopher Hains, University of New Mexico

* Alberto V. Solis, University of New Mexico

* A.J. Carian, University of New Mexico

* Kurt Edward Capalbo, University of New Mexico

* Katharine Winograd, Central New Mexico Community College

* Luis Valentino, Albuquerque Public Schools (ouch)

* Teresa Archuleta, Tierra Adentro Charter School

* Laura Kesselman, Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau

* Jose Garcia, Albuquerque Convention Center

All five members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation added their support. Two of Bernalillo County’s commissioners followed suit, with Debbie O’Malley, Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert opting out. Not surprisingly, six of nine city councilors back ART.

In addition, a raft of subsidized nonprofits are on board.

Click here for the full list.

The bottom line? If you pay taxes in New Mexico, you’re a “supporter” of the state’s next infrastructure boondoggle.

A Hot Month for Right-to-Work Job Creation

Tue, 2015-09-01 15:48

The Rio Grande Foundation is tracking announcements of expansions, relocations, and greenfield investments published on Area Development‘s website. Founded in 1965, the publication “is considered the leading executive magazine covering corporate site selection and relocation. … Area Development is published quarterly and has 60,000 mailed copies.” In an explanation to the Foundation, its editor wrote that items for Area Development’s announcements listing are “culled from RSS feeds and press releases that are emailed to us from various sources, including economic development organizations, PR agencies, businesses, etc. We usually highlight ones that represent large numbers of new jobs and/or investment in industrial projects.”

Last month, of 23,750 projected jobs, 19,772 — 83.3 percent — were slated for right-to-work (RTW) states:

Sixteen domestic companies based in non-RTW states announced investments in RTW states. Just four announcements went the other way.

Foreign direct investment was also highly skewed. Twenty-seven projects are headed to RTW states, but only three are to to occur in non-RTW states.

Marquee RTW wins included the decision by Illinois-Based Hoist Liftruck Mfg., Inc. to add 500 workers to its facility across the border in Indiana, Chinese aerospace firm HAECO’s expansion of its North Carolina workforce by 127 jobs, and Johnson & Johnson’s choice of Florida for a shared-services headquarters to “handle work for its operating companies in the areas of finance, human resources, information technology and procurement.” For the eco-left, a bitterly ironic investment was announced by SolarCity. The California-based company picked Utah for a huge facility to house “accounting, finance, human resources, legal, marketing and sales support.”

Sadly, as is usually the case, no investments were announced for New Mexico.

Methodological specifics:

* All job estimates — “up to,” “as many as,” “about” — were taken at face value, for RTW and non-RTW states alike.

* If an announcement did not make an employment projection, efforts were made to obtain an estimate from newspaper articles and/or press releases by elected officials and economic-development bureaucracies.

* If no job figure could be found anywhere, the project was not counted, whether it was a RTW or non-RTW state.

* Intrastate relocations were not counted, interstate relocations were.

The “Money Pit” New Mexico style

Tue, 2015-09-01 09:42

Several years ago, Eclipse Aviation received a taxpayer-financed infusion of $19 million via the State Investment Council. A few years ago, that money was gone, Eclipse Aviation was bankrupt with taxpayers holding the bag and nothing but a few buildings left.

Recently, the Bernalillo County Commission voted unanimously to approve $30 million in “Industrial Revenue Bonds” to allow New Mexico Food Distributors Inc. to expand in Albuquerque without paying property tax for 20 years. The chosen facility (soon to make tortillas and other New Mexican food), none other than the old Eclipse factory.

One hopes that the second time around with this factory goes better than the first. The good news is that New Mexican food has a longer track record of sales success than did Eclipse. The $30 million is also a tax break, not an outright giveaway. But, asking local taxpayers to pony up another $30 million to abate taxes on a property for which state taxpayers already spent $19 million is a bitter pill to swallow indeed.

Perhaps it is a sign that New Mexico needs serious tax reform so as to be more competitive without all the special tax breaks and giveaways?

HT: Rob Nikolewski

How to Access to a High-Performing High School

Mon, 2015-08-31 15:40

A Foundation supporter recently sent along an analysis by the District of Columbia’s Office of Revenue Analysis. It concluded that in “most parts of the District, people who wish to buy a home face an expensive housing market. The costs become even higher if you want to buy within the boundaries of a high performing public school so your children have the right to attend that school.”

We ran a similar number-crunch on 13 government high schools in Albuquerque. Here’s what we found:

The results were no shock — in the priciest portions of the school district, achievement is highest. In 2011, the composite ACT score for La Cueva High School, where the median assessed value of owner-occupied housing is nearly $200,000, was 24. In depressing contrast, Atrisco Heritage High School, where homes’ median valuation is around $70,000, posted a score of just 13.5.

The scatterplot reveals why school choice is essential for parents trying to obtain the best learning opportunities for their children. Education shouldn’t be about location, it should be about which school is the best fit for students.

Thanks to the GIS Section of Bernalillo County’s Public Works Division for its help with housing data.

‘Political pay’ at APS is a bad deal

Mon, 2015-08-31 09:53

Most of the media’s attention has been focused on the ongoing scandal at the top of Albuquerque Public Schools. Unfortunately, an issue with much larger long-term ramifications was voted on by the APS board – minus Peggy Muller-Aragon, who opposed the move.

The issue is of course paying district employees “political pay” for serving in the Legislature. Apparently, a majority of the board recognized an opportunity to increase its influence in Santa Fe at taxpayer expense.

This is a classic case of a taxpayer-funded entity working to further its own political interests at the expense of those who pay the bills. After all, APS already has lobbyists patrolling the halls in Santa Fe, why not add a few more APS-paid legislators into the mix when it comes time to vote on education budgets?

Currently, four legislators are employed by the school district. Those include Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque; Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque; and Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho. Unlike the others, Lewis has not accepted his pay as a teacher in recent years when serving in Santa Fe and presumably will continue to do the same despite the district’s move.

New Mexico has the last citizen legislature. Legislators receive per diem pay on the days the Legislature meets. The state Constitution clearly states that legislators “receive only per diem and mileage and no other compensation, perquisite or allowance.” One would think this language makes clear that a legislator cannot receive any other state monies for their service.

A serious issue with the new APS policy is that it gives APS employees, at least those who accept “political pay,” an unfair advantage over their unpaid colleagues. Board member Barbara Petersen put a positive spin on things, saying that offering the pay could draw more APS employees to become lawmakers when they otherwise might not have been able to afford it.

Of course, and it is in APS’s interest to have sympathetic ears on the payroll in Santa Fe.

One question that needs to be asked now is whether these legislators will be allowed to receive “per diem” pay as legislators (again at taxpayer expense). Former APS Board member Kathy Korte once called this “triple-dipping.”

It would seem that if taxpayers are paying legislators through their employer, they shouldn’t be forced to pay them again for their service through the per diem system.

Concern over public employees serving in the Legislature is nothing new. The New Mexico Supreme Court just decided that the city of Albuquerque was justified in restricting city employees from serving as legislators.

During the 2015 legislative session, Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, sponsored legislation, HB 439, that would have prohibited APS and other “subdivisions of the state” from compensating their workers for time served in the Legislature. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it out of the House.

New Mexico has long had bigger-than-average-government (including state and local governments). According to the website Key Policy Data, New Mexico has the second-largest ratio of state and local workers relative to private sector workers in the nation. It is widely recognized across partisan lines that New Mexico needs a larger, more vibrant private sector.

We can appreciate the willingness of all who serve in New Mexico’s unpaid, volunteer Legislature to give their time to make our state a better place to live, but government agencies shouldn’t be “stacking the deck” by giving their employees a big financial advantage when it comes to serving in the Legislature.

Private sector and self-employed legislators (and their employers) face real hardships when serving in Santa Fe. But their experience and the sacrifices they make provide a perspective that is simply missing from many who make their living in government.

Rather than encouraging more government workers to serve in the Legislature at added taxpayer expense, New Mexico needs an even playing field with public workers facing the same financial sacrifices as we expect from those without the benefit of a taxpayer-funded job.

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


Center for Truth in Accounting outlines financial state of New Mexico

Fri, 2015-08-28 09:38

The folks at the Center for Truth in Accounting keep an eagle eye on state government finances. They have released a new report on “The Financial State of New Mexico.”

A few key findings from the detailed report on New Mexico: researchers found that New Mexico did not report 99 percent — or $7.5 billion worth — of its retirement debt on the state’s balance sheet.

New Mexico only reported $58.57 million in retirement and health care benefits yet owes approximately $7.5 billion. Because the state government uses outdated accounting methods, a vast majority of liabilities are excluded from its financial reporting.

When TIA researchers included the $7.5 billion of hidden debt, they discovered that New Mexico:

● owes $12.5 billion in bills;

● has $7 billion available to pay bills; and

● needs $5.5 billion to pay bills.

If New Mexico’s $5.5 billion of debt were divided among its taxpayers, each taxpayer’s personal share would be $9,700.

In 2014, New Mexico received the organization’s “Tortoise Award” for being so slow in producing its financials.

As seen below, New Mexico taxpayers face significant burdens. According to the organization, each taxpayer’s financial burden (surplus)’ is the money needed (available) to pay bills divided by the number of state taxpayers.” This is the approximate amount required of each taxpayer in order to pay the State’s obligations today.


Transit-only lanes hurt auto mobility: Seattle’s experience

Thu, 2015-08-27 16:25

Albuquerque Mayor Berry continues to talk in platitudes and generalities about how his proposed $100 million bus system could be a “game changer” and “transformative” to Albuquerque. What he doesn’t care to discuss is how the proposed system would impact overall mobility on Central.

Thankfully, Albuquerque is not the first city to have embraced dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit. Seattle has done so as well. And, according to a new report from the Washington Policy Center (a free market think tank based in Washington), predictions of improved traffic in areas served by the new transit system have not only proven wrong, but the exact opposite has happened. Auto traffic in the area has slowed dramatically.

The first table below are the predictions offered by public officials in advance of the project being completed.

However, a recent official analysis shows that didn’t happen. According to the SDOT report, not only did officials not provide the driving public with quicker trips, but for many people, travel times actually got worse after the policy took away part of the public street.  Even bus riders heading northbound during the afternoon commute have suffered longer commute times since officials reserved the public lanes for transit.

A comparison between reality and political promises is available below:

Yes, transit travel times generally dropped, but travel by car (car trips are much more common despite the addition of transit) got far more difficult and time consuming.

There is nothing wrong with building transit systems in order to serve high-density job centers. The idea of spending $100 million or more to purposefully make motor traffic worse in a chosen area in order to encourage “transit oriented development” is just silly.

Ultimately, if we are going to spend at least $20 million and an additional $2 million annually, shouldn’t we use those dollars for real issues like policing and making our community a safer, more attractive place to live and work?

We’re number one….in federal dependency

Wed, 2015-08-26 16:00

We all know that New Mexico relies heavily on federal spending and according to a report from WalletHub which I happened to run across, New Mexico is THE MOST RELIANT state in the nation when it comes to federal money beating out even Mississippi which came in 49th (or 2nd depending on perspective).

Source: WalletHub

Source: WalletHub

There’s no doubt that New Mexico needs to build its private sector economy. Gov. Martinez’s reforms were thwarted by the hostile Democrat-controlled Senate during the 2015 session. Will the status quo persist in the 30 day 2016 session?