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Why is New Mexico not realizing its potential?
Updated: 15 min 1 sec ago

Are your legislators voting for or against freedom?

Sun, 2014-01-19 21:58

Click here.

The Rio Grande Foundation has re-launched its legislative tracking tool called “Freedom Index,” which provides a daily review of legislation impacting economic freedom in the state.

For the first time, lawmakers will be able to get an independent, free market view of legislation pending before the Legislature. Moreover, voters can see whether their legislators are voting for free markets or for bigger government.

Users will be able to see:

• The relative voting performance of legislators according to the Freedom Index;
• The relative voting performance of each party according to the Freedom Index;
• The analysis criteria behind the legislation ranking will be made publicly-available for download;
• Links to legislation detail;
• Links to legislator Information, including contact information;
• And selections of legislation by relevant categories.

The Freedom Index is available here. 

Our analysis will be available before final votes on those bills that are analyzed and can be used by both legislators, legislative staff and interested voters to debate the merits of a bill.

In short, the Index provides an excellent analysis of bills that will come before committees or a vote on the floor as well as tracking a legislator’s Freedom Index score. The public will find our Freedom Index to be a tool to hold elected officials accountable for their vote and to gain a better understanding of the legislation being proposed by the House or Senate members.

Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing said of his organization’s new legislative tracking web site, “We are thrilled to add the freedom perspective to the legislative process in Santa Fe. For too long, the special interests have run wild with the voice of taxpayers and those who pay the bills too often pushed to the side.”

Is the Democratic Party tent shrinking?

Fri, 2014-01-17 15:29

I always thought that the Chairman of any major political party was to encourage the election of candidates of that Party and to encourage the general population to sign on to that Party’s ideals. I also thought the Democratic Party was the “big tent” party which prided itself on diversity and openness. Perhaps that’s changing at least when it comes to fiscal responsibility thanks to Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman?

In one recent interview with KRQE Channel 13, Bregman called out relatively fiscally-conservative Sen. John-Arthur Smith and told him that he should get in line behind liberals’ big-spending proposals to tap the Permanent Fund or get out of the Party.

In this interview conducted separately with Albuquerque Biz First, Bregman argues that legislators should pass a $10/hour minimum wage for New Mexico which would give the state the highest minimum wage in the nation. He also claims that no businesses have closed because of the higher wage already imposed. Apparently, Bregman missed this story detailing how several Albuquerque businesses were closing. And, just because the owner of a closing business doesn’t mention the minimum wage hike as a reason for closing, don’t believe that it’s not at least a partial reason. No one wants to be seen as having a case of “sour grapes.”

I’m not a Democrat and I don’t understand how someone could see what the left-wing economic policies imposed upon this state by decades of Democratic-Party rule have done to our economy and education system could support even more spending and bigger government. But, there are fiscally-conservative Democrats out there. After all, unlike Bregman, John-Arthur Smith has to stand for election every four years. Apparently, despite being charged with increasing the size and power of his Party, Bregman seems hell-bent on imposing purity tests on Democrats with the intent of getting rid of those who are insufficiently pro big-government. It’s an interesting strategy.

Comment on proposed IRS Rules Targeting Non-profits

Fri, 2014-01-17 12:02

The Albuquerque Tea Party recently had a column in the Journal that discussed their targeting by the IRS. The article also noted that new regulations have been proposed which would further clamp down on free speech. Anyone who is concerned about the ability for organizations like the Tea Party and other non-profits to engage in the political and policy debates facing our nation should be concerned and should consider taking a few minutes to comment.

Details on the IRS’s proposed regulations (from the IRS itself) can be found here. More English language information is available from the Center for Competitive Politics which advocates for free speech among these organizations. Lastly and most importantly, comments can be sent to the IRS here. The Rio Grande Foundation has posted the following comments:

The Rio Grande Foundation is a 501c3 non profit think tank based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We have the following concerns about the proposed IRS regulations. We are concerned because they are discriminatory as they only applying to 501c4 organizations;
they violate First Amendment rights of citizens and organizations;
the regulations are complicated, complex and will burden small citizens groups;
they ignore the fact that political and lobbying activities ARE for the social welfare and the public good;

The following are things that 501c4 organizations should be allowed to do 365 days a year:

Hold candidate forums and debates;
engage in nonpartisan voter registration;
engage in get-out-the-vote activities;
issue voter guides;
discuss the voting records of incumbents;
engage in grassroots lobbying 365 days per year; and
volunteer programs should NOT be subject to taxation.

Paul Gessing’s appearance on KRWG “Newsmakers”

Thu, 2014-01-16 17:37

On this 30 minute interview with Fred Martino of KRWG public television in Las Cruces, Gessing discusses several issues facing New Mexico including the struggling economy, the RailRunner and Spaceport, education reform, federal lands in New Mexico, and criminal justice reform. Check out the video below:

New Mexico’s Exodus: Cause or Effect?

Thu, 2014-01-16 11:09

Today’s Albuquerque Journal includes an article by Winthrop Quigley dealing with New Mexico’s population loss. This is an issue we’ve been covering for at least the last year (and here), so it is great to see the Journal covering it.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case with our friend Winthrop, he gets the story exactly wrong. It is not a loss of population (for some random metaphysical reason) that is going to harm New Mexico’s economy. Rather, it is New Mexico’s economy that is causing people to leave the state. Obviously, there are reasons other than jobs for which people move from one place to another as the article cites. One that was not cited, BTW was weather, which would seemingly play to our advantage.

And, of course, there may be hiccups and short-term migrations for one reason or another (Utah was a top-ten outbound state according to United Van Lines this year for some odd reason, but I don’t look for that to continue), but New Mexico has been an outbound state for two years in a row. That has the makings of a trend. And when you look at the states from which people are moving and compare them to the states to which people are moving, it is hard not to see the desire for better employment and more economic freedom as a driving force.

Freedom drove the Founders to move from Europe to the New World. Freedom drove settlers to the West. Freedom drove American blacks from the Old South to the North, and freedom has brought immigrants from all over the world to the United States. Is it really a surprise that freedom will cause people to move from one state to another?

Can’t meet education standards, then lower them!

Wed, 2014-01-15 13:57

Rep. Mimi Stewart is a hard-line liberal and supporter of the education establishment (she’s also a retired educator). We disagree on a wide variety of issues, notably school finance (she views more education spending as inadequate) and school choice (I believe in a wide variety of choice options and she generally wants to restrict them). While we disagree, I have to admit that her proposal to lower New Mexico’s graduation standards is a real head scratcher.

To be fair, the bill would just lower standards. Rather, it sets up two graduation tracks for New Mexico schools. One of these would be based on current standards and one would have fewer graduation requirements. That doesn’t mean that lowering education standards is a good idea. In fact, you constantly hear complaints from employers around the state over the inability of graduates of New Mexico’s public schools to read effectively or do simple math. I don’t think a second track is what we need, rather we need a more effective education system.

On that note, I found this article from The Economist interesting. It details what nations that perform well on international tests do. A few choice paragraphs:

(The author) follows three American teenagers who spend a year as foreign-exchange students in Finland, Poland and South Korea. Their wide-eyed observations make for compelling reading. In each country, the Americans are startled by how hard their new peers work and how seriously they take their studies. Maths classes tend to be more sophisticated, with lessons that show the often fascinating ways that geometry, trigonometry and calculus work together in the real world. Students forego calculators, having learned how to manipulate numbers in their heads. Classrooms tend to be understated, free of the high-tech gadgetry of their schools back home. And teachers in every subject exhibit the authority of professionals held in high regard.

And check out this paragraph which to my mind offers a truly devastating critique of the left-liberal Mimi Stewart mindset:

In Helsinki Ms Ripley visits a school in a bleak part of town, where classrooms are full of refugee immigrants.“I don’t want to think about their backgrounds too much,” says their teacher, wary of letting sympathy cloud his judgment of his students’ work. “It’s your brain that counts”. She marvels at how refreshing this view is when compared with that of teachers in America, where academic mediocrity is often blamed on backgrounds and neighbourhoods. And she laments the “perverse sort of compassion” that prevents American teachers from failing bad students, not least because this sets these youths up to fail in a worse way later on.

Let the wild, left-wing rumpus begin!

Mon, 2014-01-13 12:39

Liberals and conservatives rarely agree on anything, but the fact that Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity is leaving New Mexico is bad news for conservatives and good news for left-wing liberals like George Soros.

While this is unfortunate news for advocates of the free market and limited government throughout New Mexico, we at the Rio Grande Foundation aren’t going anywhere. We’ll continue to advocate for the free market and against the far-left agenda that has led New Mexico to the bottom in economic freedom and the top of so many bad lists when it comes to poverty, overall economic performance, and education.

Nation School Choice Week Film Screening/Discussion – Albuquerque

Mon, 2014-01-13 10:59
Join Us For a Special Event During
National School Choice Week

You are invited to a special screening of "The Ticket: Stories of School Choice and Quality Education" by filmmaker and school choice advocate Bob Bowdon. Following the 30 minute film, you'll be invited to participate in a Discussion of Educational Choice in the Land of Enchantment which will be led by Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation and will include former New Mexico Senator and school choice leader Mark Boitano and Daniel Ulibarri, head of Educate New Mexico.

The event is being held as part of nationwide National School Choice Week celebrations from January 26th to February 1st of this year.

We are hoping to have an interactive discussion of the wide variety of school choice options and where New Mexico stands with respect to each option. These might include great public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, digital/online learning and homeschooling. So, bring your questions!

Co-sponsors of this year's event are the Rio Grande Foundation and Educate New Mexico.

National School Choice Week's Albuquerque Event
Wednesday, January 29th – 6:00 to 7:30pm
St. Pius X High School
5301 St Joseph's Dr. NW
Albuquerque, NM  87120

There is no cost to attend this event. Snacks and sodas will be provided. An RSVP would be appreciate via the online registration form available here.

We look forward to celebrating with you!

Location Details: The event will be held in the St. Cecelia building. It is the second one on the right as you enter the St. Pius campus.

I love to go to Washington – if only to be near my money.

Fri, 2014-01-10 17:54

The old Bob Hope quote never gets old. It is why Americans continue to move to Washington, DC. More importantly, it is an indication of serious economic issues: if you want to move to America’s wealthiest places, move to where the government is.

Check out this article which goes through the data. Los Alamos is the 3rd-wealthiest county in America (thanks to the government!). 4 of the 5 wealthiest counties are in the DC suburbs (only Los Alamos is not). 6 of the top 10 wealthiest are in the DC area.

Anyway, fascinating data and a sad commentary on the central role Washington now plays in the US economy.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Budget?

Thu, 2014-01-09 18:37

A local filmmaker is taking on the federal budget. Actually, he’s made a reality film about eight people who use real-world budget information to balance the seemingly un-balanceable federal budget. The film, called “Big Bad Budget,” will be shown at UNM on Saturday, January 18. For more details, click here. Admission is free, but an RSVP is requested.

For a preview of some online games that you can use to balance the federal budget, check out this site and this one.

A Market-Based Approach to New Mexico’s Lottery Scholarship Program

Thu, 2014-01-09 10:24

(Albuquerque) The Legislature will consider reforming the system during the upcoming 2014 legislative session. Several proposals have been made in the hopes of reforming New Mexico’s Lottery Scholarship program which plays such a large role in financing higher education in the Land of Enchantment.

In its newest paper, “Let’s Really Reform New Mexico’s Lottery Scholarships,” Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, takes a broader look at the impacts, both positive and negative, of the Lottery Scholarship program and outlines some principles that legislators should adhere to in considering the program’s future. He also offers some approaches that might increase the positive impact of the program both on educational outcomes and New Mexico’s economy as a whole.

The paper includes:

  • A reminder of the tradeoffs and negative impacts of government-sponsored gambling;
  • Analysis of how New Mexico’s Scholarship program results in students “slacking off” in high school;
  • The scholarship discourages students from pursuing scholarships and other funding opportunities for their higher educations;
  • An explanation of why it might not be good public policy to encourage New Mexico’s best high school students to stay in New Mexico; and
  • How the Lottery Scholarship spurs price inflation among New Mexico’s institutes of higher education.

Gessing strongly discourages the Legislature from using General Fund revenues to prop up the Lottery Scholarship Program and cautions against over-emphasizing the use of grades in determining who keeps and who loses their scholarships.

Finally, Gessing encourages the Legislature to consider an innovative voucher-style proposal that, if adopted, would solve several of the problems inherent in the current, flawed model.

A Gessing argues, “The Lottery Scholarship Program has the potential to improve New Mexico’s work force. We believe that a healthy dose of market-based incentives could make limited lottery funds go further without tapping taxpayers for even more spending on higher education.”

Extending unemployment benefits (again) a dumb idea, time for an innovative approach

Wed, 2014-01-08 15:53

It’s time to get innovative in how America deals with unemployment. Washington Republicans who just supported a budget deal that broadly expanded government, but allowed extended unemployment benefits to expire, are now looking for ways to capitulate to demands from Democrats that unemployment benefits be expanded beyond 26 week (up to as many as 99 weeks) for 1.3 million Americans.

If the government keeps giving people money for being unemployed, you are going to get more unemployment. How about instead helping the unemployed Americans stuck in high-tax, low economic freedom states, get out of those states and find jobs in places where the unemployment rate is hovering around 5 percent or less? Areas like Midland, TX, the fastest growing city in America could also provide much-needed jobs for struggling workers in high-tax states like New York from which large number of Americans are fleeing (might be why Chuck Schumer is so angry at Rand Paul and others who oppose unemployment benefits w/o end).

Over the long-term, being on unemployment DOES hurt the very workers it is intended to help. And unemployment benefits can keep people in places that will take a long time to recover from this economic downturn. It’s time to incentivize people to move where the jobs are. This idea was actually written about in the Washington Post, so I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

Update: North Carolina which reduced the length of unemployment insurance availability saw dramatic declines in its unemployment rate. Notably, North Carolina is one of the states to which people are moving according to the United Van Lines report cited above.

New Mexico among top 10 outbound states for 2nd straight year

Wed, 2014-01-08 10:19

United Van Lines isn’t a think tank, nor is it dedicated to demography, but as a moving company, they do have a pretty good idea where Americans are moving to and coming from. As the map below shows, New Mexico again finds itself on the list of top 10 states that Americans are moving out of (last year’s report can be found here):

Some points worth noting on the top states to which people are moving:

Three (SD, TX, and NV) have no personal income tax;
One, OR, has no sales tax;
Five are right to work states (SD, TX, NV, SC, NC);
One, CO, has a constitutional amendment (called TABOR) that both limits spending growth and mandates a vote on ALL tax hikes.
One, DC, is the capital of our bloated, federal government which forcibly takes money from productive citizens in the rest of the nation.

Among the states from which people are moving:

UT is a right to work state while the rest are forced-unionism states that possess both income and sales taxes.

Responses to recent ABQ Business Outlook letter writers

Tue, 2014-01-07 15:53

A few recent letter writers to the Albuquerque Journal’s Business Outlook section attacked the Rio Grande Foundation’s views and its funding. One of these letter writers happened to be from the Sierra Club. I responded with the following which was published in the Business Outlook section on Monday, January 6, 2014:

Some letter writers have attacked the Rio Grande Foundation on these pages and I feel compelled to set the record straight. A representative of the Sierra Club attacked us for allegedly being funded by those who would “burn the dirtiest, cheapest energy they can.”

The reality is that Rio Grande Foundation is funded primarily by New Mexicans who believe that free markets, not government mandates, are the best means of creating economic prosperity. While we do accept corporate donations when those businesses also support free market principles (by no means a common occurrence), those donations pale in comparison to the $25 million the Sierra Club accepted between 2007 and 2010 from the natural gas industry.

Now that fracking has made natural gas a competitor for “renewables,” the Club has changed direction and, misguidedly in my opinion, calls the natural gas industry, “dirty, dangerous, and run amok” on its “Beyond Natural Gas website.”

A second letter writer makes a series of claims out of left field relating to what is subsidized by government and what is not. Law enforcement should be subsidized by government. Roads have historically been and will likely continue to be subsidized by the taxpayer, but they also generate significant user-fees in the form of gas taxes and are a basic requirement for a variety of public services.

Nonetheless, European nations have relied on privately-operated toll roads for decades and as gas taxes decline as a source of revenue due to increased fuel efficiency, we hope that private-sector providers will play a larger role in America’s transportation system.

My organization has opposed and continues to oppose the RailRunner because its high cost outweighs any benefit it provides relative to our transportation network. We also believe that the same transportation role could be performed better and far more cheaply by buses.

Paul J. Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation

Gov. Martinez honored for “Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform” by national organization

Tue, 2014-01-07 15:10

The Tax Foundation is broadly free market tax policy research organization based in Washington, DC. They have created a new award for national leaders from around America who have contributed to the fight for pro-market tax reforms. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was just honored by the organization for her corporate tax reform efforts that were enacted at the end of the 2013 legislative session.

According to the Tax Foundation, “New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez proposed a far-reaching business tax reform and, by skillfully working with the Legislature, signed into law in 2013 a final bill that included much of what she had sought. Provisions include a reduction in the corporate tax rate from 7.6 percent to 5.9 percent over several years, tightening of some tax credits, and improvements to tax administration.”

Kudos to Gov. Martinez. Her efforts are one of many reforms needed to make New Mexico a more economically-competitive state.

Stossel takes on the Common Core

Mon, 2014-01-06 14:57

John Stossel is one of the guiding lights of the free market movement. His platform as a national television host gives him regular opportunities to weigh in on the pressing issues of the day. Unlike many politicians and media personalities, Stossel is a consistent opponent of government overreach and a proponent of individual liberty. He’s done a great deal of work on education issues.

So, it was only a matter of time before Stossel took on the education policy known as “Common Core.” While some conservatives and advocates of limited government have endorsed Common Core, Stossel outlines his concerns here.

According to Stossel, the fundamental flaw with Common Core is that:

As American education has become more centralized, the rest of our lives have become increasingly diverse and tailored to individual needs. Every minute, thousands of entrepreneurs struggle to improve their products. Quality increases, and costs often drop.

But centrally planned K-12 education doesn’t improve. Per-student spending has tripled (governments now routinely spend $300,000 per classroom!), but test results are stagnant.

While Common Core may have some good aspects, I believe that we must fundamentally re-form our entire K-12 education system in ways that emphasize choices and individuality. These concepts, as Stossel notes, govern the rest of our lives. It is hard to imagine that another centrally-imposed curriculum or set of standards, no matter how well-intentioned, is the cure for America’s education woes.

Another ObamaCare lie busted: ER visits to rise under the law

Fri, 2014-01-03 14:45

The hits keep on coming for ObamaCare. First, Obama told us that if we liked our coverage we could keep it, now it looks like his claim that the law would reduce costly visits to hospital emergency rooms is being undermined by a new study out of Oregon. As a bit of background, ER visits are notoriously expensive and tend to be an inefficient way to deliver health care services, especially when people really don’t need emergency care.

Astute readers will recall that I have written in the past about Oregon having engaged in a massive experiment by holding a lottery to either give or not give poor people Medicaid. ObamaCare achieves most of its coverage increase by simply expanding Medicaid coverage (although the Supreme Court ultimately gave the states the final call on this).

Well, according to the new report, contrary to Obama’s assertions to the contrary, people on Medicaid are MORE likely to visit the ER than those who did not receive the expanded coverage. Oops! Just another ObamaCare lie and just another way this law will further harm American health care.

Spurring Discussion on New Mexico’s economy w/ Democratic candidate Alan Webber

Thu, 2014-01-02 13:27

Recently, I penned a column that ran in several papers around New Mexico. Democratic candidate Alan Webber penned a response to that column.

While I appreciate Webber’s willingness to engage in a much-needed discussion over New Mexico’s flailing economy, his article wasn’t exactly reassuring insofar as Webber’s understanding of economic policy in the Land of Enchantment is concerned. In fact, Webber fails to even note that it is the Legislature that sets economic policy in New Mexico. The PRC and Courts also have a great deal to do with policies that help or harm New Mexico’s economy.

Speaking directly to Webber’s points, he either makes inaccurate statements or fails to specify what he’d do to improve our economy. For starters, Webber claims that our state is offering “hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts trying to lure big-box stores to New Mexico.” He offers no details as to the specifics of the policy or its harms, nor does he offer viable alternatives for developing our economy.

Webber also writes about education reform, citing the need to “leave politics at the door.” He offers no other specific education reforms while failing to explain how politics can be eliminated from an education system that is funded by taxes and operated by a combination of elected officials and government bureaucrats.

New Mexico has followed left-liberal economic policies for most of its existence. Our economy has also underperformed the economies of our neighbors, most especially Texas which has followed a more free market approach. New Mexico’s elected and aspiring to be elected officials should carefully study what Texas has done and figure out what New Mexico can do to compete with them.

Recent radio interviews on tax reform/NM economy

Thu, 2014-01-02 09:37

Paul Gessing sat down for a few interviews over the Holidays with Mike Jaxson at KSVP Radio in Artesia. One discussion centered on a tax reform proposal that Rio Grande Foundation has supported.

The second discussion focused on new support from the State’s Land Commissioner for federal land devolution back to New Mexico, recent reports detailing our State’s reliance on Washington, and a brief review of 2013 and look forward to 2014.

Both interviews are about 10 minutes in length.

A positive story to end the year: government CAN work in NM

Tue, 2013-12-31 15:11

It’s been another tough year for New Mexico’s economy and a lot of people are less-than-optimistic about the future of our state, but I firmly believe that the right reforms and some genuine leadership can turn our economy and educational systems around.

For one positive example of that we need to look no further than today’s Albuquerque Journal editorial lauding Secretary of State Diana Duran for her management of New Mexico’s Corporations Bureau. Her efforts have resulted in significant efficiency improvements and cost reductions which, over time, should make our economy better as well.

Some in this state love to throw around the old Lew Wallace quote that “All calculations based on experience elsewhere, fail in New Mexico.” While there is some truth to the quote, the problem is that too often, policies that have been tried successfully in other states are never attempted here. Secretary Duran showed that leadership, demanding results, and a call to treat citizens as customers can lead to positive results.

Here’s hoping the rest of New Mexico’s government, especially the Legislature, resolves to learn from the Secretary’s example.