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Why is New Mexico not realizing its potential?
Updated: 1 hour 56 min ago

School choice sweeping the American Southwest…except New Mexico

Wed, 2015-04-08 13:51

As Cato Institute education analyst Jason Bedrick writes in a new blog post, 2015 is shaping up as a banner year for school choice. Just yesterday, significant school choice victories were achieved in both Arizona and Nevada.

If that weren’t enough, the Texas Legislature is now considering legislation legislation allowing 60 percent of education dollars – about $5,200 – to follow a child when parents elect utilizing private over public schools. The remaining funds – about $3,000 – remain in state coffers. The bill was discussed at length in the Wall Street Journal recently.

According to an article by the Texas Watchdog:

Art Laffer, noted economist and author of The Texas Economy and School Choice, maintains that besides reducing dropout rates, closing educational achievement gaps, and enhancing educational innovation, statewide school choice is a mechanism to stimulate economic growth by creating new jobs and incentivizing in-migration to Texas.

Laffer views successful implementation of statewide school choice as “an opportunity to make a difference.” Using examples like decreased crime rates, increased wages and enhanced business opportunity, he further holds that not a single socio-economic measure goes unimproved with the implementation of school choice.

Unfortunately, despite passing the Republican-controlled New Mexico House, school choice tax credits (HB 333) were killed for 2015 in New Mexico by the Democrat-controlled Senate. School choice is yet another way that New Mexico is falling further behind its neighbors.

The Great Recession Lives On in New Mexico

Wed, 2015-04-08 13:01

The news that cybersecurity startup Portal Locks probably won’t be bringing hundreds of new jobs to Questa is another bitter reminder that New Mexico is facing a severe employment crisis.

Looking back to the start of the Great Recession, though, the picture appears far worse. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that four out of New Mexico’s five neighbors has recovered, and grown past, their pre-downturn job peaks:

TX: 10.6 percent

UT: 8.2 percent

CO: 6.3 percent

OK: 3.1 percent

Both New Mexico (-2.0 percent) and Arizona (-2.3 percent) have yet to climb their way back to their pre-recession employment levels.

New Mexico towards top of places where people don’t work

Tue, 2015-04-07 17:44

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for February 2015, New Mexico’s unemployment rate is 6.0%. That puts us at 35th in the nation, significantly higher than the 5.5 percent rate nationwide. That doesn’t seem too terrible considering all the bad economic news facing our state, but it is also not the full story.

When it comes to adults in the workforce, New Mexico definitely lags behind most states. As seen in the chart below from The Fiscal Times, New Mexico only outperforms such perpetual laggards as West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama. Interestingly, the states of the upper-Midwest, regardless of political party, dominate the top slots both in terms of low unemployment rates and high work force participation:

Perhaps our policy reforms also need a healthy dose of cultural change?

Session highlights gulf between political parties: 2015 NM Legislature in review

Mon, 2015-04-06 09:37

Observers knew in the wake of November’s elections that the 2015 legislative session would be unlike any they’d seen in their lifetimes. For the first time in 62 years, the House of Representatives would be under Republican control.

Despite this shift to the right, New Mexico’s Senate remained under control of Democrats. This is because the entire Senate is up every four years in presidential election years like 2016. The House on the other hand is up for election every two years.

These are not your run-of-the-mill Democrats. Their Majority Leader, Michael Sanchez, is both a trial lawyer and one of the most partisan legislators in the Senate. There are a handful of moderates sprinkled throughout the body, but they rarely vote as a cohesive group or provide a counter-weight to their powerful Leader.

Before the session, Sanchez professed a desire that the Senate and House be able to work together despite their political differences, saying the Legislature will not “end up like Washington, D.C.” This promise was transparently false as Sanchez immediately opposed adoption of one of Gov. Martinez’s top priorities, a “Right to Work” law and then falsely claimed that Martinez “cynically commissioned a study to ‘prove’ that ‘Right to Work’ creates jobs, economic growth, and more businesses locating in New Mexico, even if this were not true.”

This column is not meant to defend “Right to Work” laws, but it is worth pointing out that 65 percent of Democrats support such laws according to national polling by Gallup from August, 2014. Other, New Mexico-specific polling, showed support for “Right to Work” running at least 2-1.

So, the question heading into the session was whether the Senate would yield some of its liberalism in the interest of compromise or whether it would remain a bastion of liberalism and a stumbling block to conservative and free market ideas. “Right to Work” would serve as the flagship for those ideas.

Would Republicans seize the mantle of reform with a small group of moderate Democrats crossing the aisle in support of popular economic and education reforms?

With the 2015 legislative session now in the books, the answer is a resounding “no.”

The following initiatives which passed the House all foundered on the rocks of Senate intransigence:

• “Right to work” as discussed above;

• Reduced worker’s compensation benefits for workers who injure themselves while drunk or stoned on job (passed the House 64-2 halfway through the session, but never saw a vote in the Senate despite being sponsored in that body by a Democrat);

• Increased penalties for fraudulent dealing of food stamps which passed the House 59-4 but never moved in the Senate;

• A system of tax credits for school choice;

• The enablement of additional methods of teacher certification and advancement.

As noted, “Right to Work” was the most controversial and significant legislation dealing with New Mexico’s poor economic performance. The bill passed through the House early in the session after being paired with a modest, .50 cent/hour increase in the minimum wage in hopes of attracting support from moderate Democrats in the Senate. Despite this compromise, Democrats voted along party lines not to hear the bill before the full senate and instead killed it on a partisan-line vote in its first committee.

Though the 2015 session highlighted the wide gulf between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate in terms of economic policy, one bright spot involved the Legislature’s unanimous adoption of far-reaching reforms to New Mexico’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Civil asset forfeiture has been abused by policing agencies nationwide to the detriment of individual rights.

A unique, left-right coalition including the Rio Grande Foundation and the ACLU of New Mexico argued for needed reforms that subsequently achieved universal support. This occurred despite the effort being ground-breaking in depth and scope.

This legislation was a bright spot in a session that otherwise saw little economic or education reforms in one of America’s most impoverished states which will continue to hemorrhage its youngest, most highly educated people until it becomes economically-competitive with neighbors like Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah.

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

Gas-Tax Hike Dodged — for How Long?

Tue, 2015-03-31 18:49

New Mexico’s motorists are surely delighted that the 2015 legislative session failed to increase the gasoline tax. Several bills were drafted to hike the levy, by as much as 59 percent. (The current rate is 17¢ per gallon.)

New Mexico’s economy is struggling to get traction — for every positive indicator reported, a discouraging statistic seems to appear — and thus the dollars flowing into the state’s highway fund remain weak. So pressure will remain intense for “revenue enhancement.”

To our east, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Lone Star State’s free-market think tank, recently issued “The Road Forward,” a study outlining non-tax methods for affordable and effective transportation. Suggestions include the “design-build” method of contracting, more involvement by the private sector, and tough scrutiny of inefficient transit projects. (Rail Runner and Albuquerque Bus Rapid Transit, we’re talking about you.)

“The Road Forward” should be required reading for all New Mexico elected officials who support a higher gas tax.

More great coverage of NM’s civil asset forfeiture reforms (now awaiting the Gov.’s signature)

Tue, 2015-03-31 08:56

Richard Rahn wrote an excellent article on New Mexico’s reforms in the Washington Times.

That paper also editorialized on behalf of the bi-partisan reforms.

There was an excellent column in the Deming Headlight on the issue.

And both the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican have endorsed the proposed reforms.

As if all that were not enough, former Gov. Gary Johnson spoke out in favor of the proposed reforms.

If you haven’t already sent a note to Gov. Martinez asking her to sign the bill, you can check out coverage of the reform effort from the national group FreedomWorks where you can drop her a line.

Texas Booms, New Mexico … Doesn’t

Fri, 2015-03-27 14:41

For the first time, “two of the five largest cities in the nation are in Texas.”

Meanwhile, the “recent trend of New Mexico losing population continued between 2013 and 2014.”

According to the Pew Research Center, migration from the Land of Enchantment is widespread. Just 24.2 percent of New Mexico’s 33 counties grew between 2013 and 2014. Only Illinois and Connecticut fared worse.

Initial Thoughts on the Santolina Controversy

Thu, 2015-03-26 16:19

Now that the Legislature is in the books, attention has turned to a major land development being proposed for the Albuquerque area called “Santolina.”

According to news reports, Santolina would be home to 90,000 people on 14,000 acres of the southwest mesa.

Opposition has sprung up from some who claim to be concerned that we don’t have enough water for those people. There are some who use the lack of water in New Mexico as an excuse to never do any development. But as I’ve written before, New Mexico doesn’t have a water supply problem; it has a water distribution problem. We need to accurately price water and use market forces to allocate it to its highest and best use.

So, water is not the problem. I do question estimates that the community will create 38,000 homes and 75,000 jobs given New Mexico’s economic woes. Perhaps the political situation in Santa Fe will change between now and when this development gets under way, but with New Mexico LOSING population last year, it is hard to see all these jobs and people coming. This isn’t “Field of Dreams” after all. But quite honestly, that isn’t my problem. If someone wants to buy a bunch of land and develop it, who am I to stop them?

The last major thing to consider with Santolina seems to be the one that, at least at this point is not generating a great deal of controversy. That is the $37.1 million of Tax Increment Development Districts (TIDD) infrastructure investments which Santolina is expected to request if their plans are approved. As free market development and transportation expert Randal O’Toole notes, TIF/TIDD is fraught with problems.

So, by all means, approve Santolina. There’s no reason for government to stand in the way of its development, but there’s no reason for existing taxpayers to subsidize it either.

The importance of open government in New Mexico and how the Legislature fared on it in 2015

Wed, 2015-03-25 15:18


By Paul Gessing | Watchdog Opinion

Open government and transparency have become watchwords in public policy debates nationwide. Indeed, during the New Mexico legislative session, several bills aimed at transparency were considered. And while the session is not yet over and we don’t know which provisions will become law, it is important to step back and consider what transparency means and why it is important.

Real transparency means opening government up to the citizens. Whether that means access to information or access to the political and legislative processes themselves, it is critical that citizens have adequate information to be engaged in an informed manner.

Transparency does not mean subjecting individuals who wish to engage in the political process to undue scrutiny. In other words, transparency is about the government itself, not individuals who donate to causes related to government. That is a critical difference that is often lost.

Prior to the start of New Mexico’s 2015 legislative session, the Rio Grande Foundation urged legislators to consider allowing for remote testimony before legislative committees as a means of opening the political process to new voices outside of close geographical proximity to Santa Fe.

New Mexico is, after all, the fifth-largest U.S. state in land area making it difficult for interested parties to make their way to Santa Fe for committee hearings during legislative sessions.

Washington State’s Legislature recently allowed for its first remote testimony while Nevada has been doing so for years. In Washington, those wishing to testify remotely before the Legislature in Olympia can make their way to a local community college that is set up with the basic technology needed to testify before a legislative committee. Needless to say, this saves tremendous travel time, opens up the process, and is good for the environment.

The technology needed for remote testimony has been around for years. Allowing for remote testimony would enable those who want to participate in the process, but can’t afford a lobbyist or can’t get away from their business or family to have their voices heard in Santa Fe. It is time for New Mexico’s Legislature to step into the 21st Century by making remote testimony a readily-available option at community colleges across the state.

Unfortunately, remote testimony was not enacted in New Mexico during the 2015 legislative session.

Another transparency-enhancing measure supported by Rio Grande Foundation is to archive testimony from all legislative hearings online. This change was proposed during the 2015 session and passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on a unanimous vote. Having this information truly public is critical to improving transparency in New Mexico government.

Lastly, by way of transparency, it is time for the Legislature to make transparency a reality on New Mexico’s Sunshine Portal. The Rio Grande Foundation worked tirelessly to help create the Portal in 2010.

The first thing to do is to make sure all state employee salaries are available on the Portal. This is, after all, public information already, but due to pressure from New Mexico’s government unions, the information was removed from the Portal.

Secondly, New Mexico’s government employee pensions should be added to the Sunshine Portal. California has done this at that State’s equivalent of our Sunshine Portal known as Transparent California.

According to a recent “meta-study” by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, New Mexico’s public pensions are arguably the most under-funded among the 50 states. Our pension system is certainly among the most troubled in the nation. Yet, voters and taxpayers are given little in the way of information in terms of which government workers are receiving the most generous pension payouts and what, if any, abuses might be taking place.

New Mexico’s taxpayers are paying the bills. It is time to give them the information they need to understand how their money is being spent and to engage intelligently in the political process.

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In New Mexico, Where Is Freedom’s Most Fertile Soil? (Part II)

Wed, 2015-03-25 10:47

Yesterday we examined the 2015 Freedom Index scores of the Senate delegations in the six regions of the state: North, East, South, West, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. Today we’ll look at the House.

With an average score of +34.9, representatives from the East, like their colleagues in the Senate, posted the highest average score. At -23.6, metro Santa Fe again ranked at the bottom. For perspective, the representative with the highest score in the state was David Adkins (R-Albuquerque), at +78. The lowest performer was D. Wonda Johnson (D-Church Rock), at -61.

New Mexico Affordable Energy Presentation – Albuquerque

Wed, 2015-03-25 10:36

Affordable Energy Threatened in New Mexico
Albuquerque Presentation by James Taylor
Energy and Environment Policy Expert at Heartland Institute
April 8, 2015  –  6:00 to 7:30pm

Since New Mexico adopted its renewable portfolio standard in 2007 under then-Gov. Bill Richardson, electricity prices in New Mexico have exploded. Seven such states with renewable mandates saw their rates soar by an average of 54.2 percent between 2001 and 2010, more than twice the average increase experienced by seven other coal-dependent states without mandates.

As New Mexico continues to struggle economically and rising electricity prices are not helping the situation. But the worst is yet to come. Federal and state policies are poised to push electricity costs even higher.

During the 2015 legislative session, HB 445 which passed the House would have limited New Mexico’s renewable requirement to 15% rather than continuing to implement it on the way to a 20% requirement by 2020.

James M. Taylor is vice president for external relations and senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute. Taylor is the former managing editor (2001-2014) of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly publication devoted to sound science and free-market environmentalism. Taylor writes a weekly column for Forbes which appears on the magazine's Website.

Taylor will be presenting on the myriad forces threatening to drive electricity prices in New Mexico even higher at a Rio Grande Foundation event.

  • When: Wednesday, April 8, from 6:00 to 7:30pm
  • Where: Room 2401 UNM Law School: 1117 Stanford Dr., NE Albuquerque, NM 87106
  • Cost: $5 payable at the door

Taylor has presented energy and environment analysis on CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel, MSNBC, PBS News Hour, PBS Frontline, CBS Evening News, ABC World News and other TV and radio outlets across the country. Taylor has also been published in virtually every major newspaper in the country.

Taylor received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College where he studied atmospheric science and majored in government. He received his Juris Doctorate from Syracuse University.

In New Mexico, Where Is Freedom’s Most Fertile Soil? (Part I)

Tue, 2015-03-24 16:32

The Rio Grande Foundation’s Freedom Index tracks each legislator’s support for or opposition to free markets and limited government. But what about geography? The delegations from which part of New Mexico support liberty, opportunity, and prosperity the most?

We looked at six regions: North, East, South, West, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. With an average score of +17.0, senators from the East posted the best performance in 2015. At -2.1, metro Santa Fe ranked worst. For perspective, the senator with the highest score in the state was Lee Cotter (R-Las Cruces), at +51. The lowest performer was the now-out-of-office Phil Griego (D-San Jose), at -18.


Tomorrow we’ll look at the House delegations.

What Else Died in the Senate

Mon, 2015-03-23 13:17

Michael Sanchez, the Majority Floor Leader of the Senate, succeeded in blocking his chamber from voting on HB75, the high-profile compromise to raise the minimum wage while making New Mexico a right-to-work state.

But the Senate’s liberal “czar” was able to block many other bills that passed the House of Representatives this session. Among them:

* HB43 would have stiffened penalties for illegally dealing in WIC checks and food stamps.

* HB55 would have reformed the state’s costly prevailing-wage mandate.

* HB238 would have reduced workers’ compensation for employees injured while drunk or on drugs. (Passed 64-2.)

* HB272 would have established a regulatory framework to legalize ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. (Passed 56-8.)

* HB333 would have expanded educational options by creating a tax credit for opportunity scholarships.

* HB445 would have maintained the “renewable portfolio standard” — essentially, a requirement for politically correct power — at 15 percent, rather than raising it to 20 percent by 2010.

The Rio Grande Foundation has been instrumental in educating the public, the media, and elected officials about the issues involved with many of the bills. In 2015, meaningful change may have fallen victim to Michael Sanchez’s obstructionism. But the Foundation will continue to provide research and commentary on the need for pro-growth, pro-taxpayer policies in New Mexico.

The 2015 Session: How Freedom Fared

Mon, 2015-03-23 10:20

With close of this year’s legislative session, the final numbers are in for the Rio Grande Foundation’s Freedom Index. Our legislative tracking tool ranked hundreds of bills, from positive (+8) to negative (-8), on the degree to which they promoted liberty, opportunity, and prosperity. Legislators were held accountable for their floor votes on all bills assigned a score.

Here are the best and worst performers:


Best Score: Lee Cotter (R-Las Cruces), 76 percent

Worst Score: Phil Griego (D-San Jose), 34 percent


Best Score: David Adkins (R-Albuquerque), 74 percent

Worst Score: Doreen Johnson (D-Gallup), 30 percent

Check out the Freedom Index to learn your legislators’ scores.

Civil Asset Forfeiture Ban Passed in New Mexico, Heads to Governor

Sun, 2015-03-22 21:21

SANTA FE, NM—On the final day of the 2015 legislative session, the Senate unanimously passed Representative Zachary Cook’s bill to end civil asset forfeiture—also known as “policing for profit”—in New Mexico. This unfair practice allows police to seize and keep property of citizens who haven’t even been charged with a crime, never mind convicted. Rep. Cook’s legislation would end the legal fiction of civil forfeiture—that property can be responsible for a crime—and replaces it with criminal forfeiture. Criminal forfeiture requires a conviction of a person as a prerequisite to losing property tied to the crime.

“Crime should not pay,” said Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation. “This bill strikes exactly the right balance by allowing law enforcement to bring criminals to justice while protecting the property rights of innocent New Mexicans.”

The bill enjoyed widespread bipartisan support at every stage of the legislative process, passing unanimously through every committee and both the House and Senate floors. This support mirrors the movement at the national level, which is fueled by a powerful partnership between conservative and liberal advocates. Bipartisan legislation has already been introduced in both houses of Congress that would dramatically reform federal civil asset forfeiture laws.

“This bill is one of the most powerful proposals in the country to end a practice that undermines American’s property rights and violates due process,” said Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, a national organization pressing for forfeiture reform. “This is a big day for New Mexico.”

The proposal is also endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Drug Policy Alliance.

Is New Mexico’s Middle Class an Endangered Species?

Fri, 2015-03-20 15:12

A new analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts explored the shrinkage of middle-class households, which the organization defined as “those making between 67 percent and 200 percent of the state’s median income.”

Between 2000 and 2013, three states saw their middle classes decline by double digits.

* Wisconsin: 10.4 percent

* Ohio: 10.2 percent

* New Mexico: 10.0 percent

The Land of Enchantment needs an aggressive strategy of pro-growth public polices, implemented immediately.

Civil asset forfeiture reform, last chance to salvage 2015 session?

Fri, 2015-03-20 11:12

In some ways the Rio Grande Foundation has had a very successful legislative session. Our ideas and research formed the basis for a number of economic reform proposals passed by the New Mexico House, including Right to Work.

Unfortunately, the liberals who control the New Mexico Senate were not willing to compromise for the good of our State.

The good news is that one last bill, HB 560 which would dramatically reform New Mexico’s civil asset forfeiture laws in order to protect individual property rights, is still alive and ready for Senate approval. It passed the House unanimously and is the result of bi-partisan work by a number of people and organizations. The Santa Fe New Mexican has an article in today’s paper outlining some of the problems with current asset forfeiture laws and what the reforms might do. At this point we don’t know what the Martinez Administration would do with a bill that passed both houses, but the Senate has to act before that is even a concern.

Nonetheless, while we at RGF always look to preserve individual liberties and are not shy about the divisive nature of some reforms, it is fun to occasionally have “strange bedfellows” coalitions.

Non-RTW States: Where the Jobs Aren’t

Wed, 2015-03-18 13:30

With the 2015 legislative session about to end, it’s a near-certainty that right-to-work (RTW) legislation, which passed the House, will not be voted on in the Senate.

Given New Mexico’s struggling economy and declining population, it’s unfortunate that senators have rejected a powerful, and cost-fee, tool for job creation. Since the start of the year, the Rio Grande Foundation has been 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.”

Here are the findings for January:

Here are the findings for February:

In all, 27,389 jobs (80.6 percent) were to be created in RTW states. Only 6,605 jobs (19.4 percent) were planned for non-RTW states.

Notably, many projects involved shifts from non-RTW to RTW states:

* Brad Penn Lubricants moved production from Pennsylvania to Indiana.

* Mercedes-Benz USA relocated its corporate headquarters from New Jersey to Georgia.

* American Stair Corporation moved its operations from Illinois to Indiana.

Contrary to unions’ claims, the positions slated for RTW states are not limited to “McJobs,” but run the gamut, including healthcare, software/IT, manufacturing, finance, engineering, and logistics/warehousing — exactly the kind of opportunities New Mexico needs to reverse its economic woes.

In all, New Mexico’s four RTW neighbors are projected to gain 6,122 jobs, while non-RTW Colorado posted no project announcements.

Some 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.

Q: When is a tax not really a tax?

Wed, 2015-03-18 11:57

A: When a majority of the Santa Fe City Council says it isn’t? I don’t know the real answer to that question, but if there’s any group that can raise revenues without raising taxes, the ever-creative liberals at the City of Santa Fe might just be it. See the Santa Fe New Mexican’s coverage of a new proposal to levy a 10 cent fee on each paper bag used by shoppers. A prior attempt by city councilor to tax paper bags was killed on concerns that it was illegal, but the Council has changed the name of the fee from “service fee” to “environmental fee” in an effort to skirt the law.

Interestingly, the City’s Assistant City Attorney Theresa Gheen, claimed that the new fee passes legal muster, but when asked to explain why the fee wasn’t an illegal tax, Gheen couldn’t. The fee hasn’t passed Santa Fe’s City Council yet and it only passed on 3-2 vote. There is still time to win the political argument against this tax increase, but if the tax hike is passed, there will definitely be a legal argument as well.

Does New Mexico Suffer from a Lack of ‘Public Investments’?

Tue, 2015-03-17 11:08

The end of the legislative session just a few days away, and appropriations for the new fiscal year — which starts July 1 — will soon be finalized.

For a broader perspective, the Rio Grande Foundation looked at the the trend in all state spending, adjusted for inflation, for the fiscal years 2003 to 2013. Figures are in billions, and come from the comprehensive annual financial reports issued by the Department of Finance and Administration. They include every dollar spent, from unemployment benefits to transportation, education to prisons, Medicaid to the the New Mexico Finance Authority.

In all, state expenditures rose by 30.2 percent, a sharp divergence from population growth of just 11.6 percent.

Stingy state government? Not exactly.