If you haven’t been hiding under a rock over the last few weeks, you are probably aware of the ongoing scandal at the Veterans Administration. The basics of the scandal involve lengthy wait-times for veterans’ treatment in some cases resulting in death, manipulation of data on treatment and wait-times among top brass at the VA, and outright fraud perpetrated on veterans and taxpayers alike.
This is not the first time that veterans have been failed (remember the Walter Reed scandal?) by their government when it comes to their health care. Given the Obama Administration’s marquee legislative accomplishment “ObamaCare” and this scandal which has signs of “sticking” in ways that other scandals during this Administration have not, it is worth exploring the parallels and differences between ObamaCare and the VA.
The VA is a classic “single-payer” system. This more closely parallels the British or Canadian models than ObamaCare. Not surprisingly, many of the issues causing the VA scandal (rationing, wait-lists, and inadequate care) are often cited as problems with “single-payer” models. I’m not a huge Sarah Palin plan, but I think she was being generous when she made her “death-panels” comments. The reality is that the system’s own inertia will kill people (as has happened with the VA) not an organized panel.
It is worth noting that the VA serves America’s veterans. Few groups in this country are viewed more favorably by all sectors of society. One would expect that health care for a relatively small number of people who served their nation and are viewed sympathetically by large swaths of the population would be BETTER than any care provided to the population at large.
In terms of differences, there is no question that ObamaCare as designed is NOT single-payer. The law simply places additional regulations onto our “third-party-payment” system in which Americans’ health care is paid for by someone else whether that be insurance companies or (increasingly) other taxpayers through government programs like Medicaid. However, many believe that ObamaCare is intended to move America down the path to “single-payer.” None other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Reid has said that he sees a national single-payer health system as the natural next step for health care in America. Reid said the nation had to “work its way past” insurance-based health care.
Reid and conservative Sen. Tom Coburn don’t agree on much, but they do agree that ObamaCare is a significant step towards “single-payer.”
So far, Republicans seem content to concentrate their ire on the individuals involved in the scandal (Obama, Shinseki, a few rogue bureaucrats), when the problem is the incentives (or lack-thereof) of the “single-payer” system itself. Of course, Republicans have played a tremendous role in creating the VA and I doubt they have the interest in or ability to really reform the system so it works, so I doubt we’ll see much discussion of the systematic problems inherent in the VA model.
What is the role of government regulation in our economy? Supporters of more regulation tend to cite the need to protect clean water and clean air while also protecting consumers against unsafe products. Well-crafted regulations CAN be a force for good in these areas, but all too often, regulations become “captured” by the very industries they are meant to regulate. Rather than being imposed for the public good, regulations become a tool for established players in a given industry to “protect their turf” (and profits) by keeping competition out.
The case of Lyft and its battle with New Mexico’s PRC and the incumbent taxi industry is a great example of this tendency towards “regulatory capture.” Check out this column in defense of the current regulatory system from Michael Cadigan an Albuquerque attorney and former city councilor. Cadigan’s argument can be summed up in one paragraph from his column, “Right or wrong, New Mexico taxis have to charge rates approved by the state. They cannot charge less; they cannot charge more. That is the law, just like it is in nearly every state in the country. They also pay required gross receipts taxes and payroll taxes to the city and state.”
So, no matter how bad the regulations are for consumers, taxi companies and new players should just shut up and deal with it. Of course, this view is based on the fallacious belief that regulations were simply created from on high without the “benefit” of industry input. In reality, as recently as the 2013 legislative session, I sat through committee hearings in Santa Fe in which the only opposition to partial deregulation came from the taxi industry led by their lobbyist Raymond Sanchez. Despite broad bi-partisan support for deregulation, the bill passed was weak tea indeed and still left New Mexico’s transportation industry heavily and unnecessarily regulated.
This heavy regulation doesn’t benefit consumers. It benefits the incumbents in the industry. Airline deregulation that took place in the 1970s was just one famous example and what is happening with Lyft reminds me of a great scene from The Aviator.
In Rio Rancho, there has been a battle going on over whether the AIMS charter school should or should not be allowed to open at the UNM campus in Rio Rancho (the school recently received a waiver from the Public Education Department to do exactly that). While RGF supports school choice and charters, the organization had not taken a position on the AIMS expansion in particular. However, a recent article claimed, based on a flawed study from the Legislative Finance Committee, that charters receive disproportionate funding per-pupil relative to traditional public schools. In reality, that is not the case and I pointed it out in a published letter in the Albuquerque Journal Rio edition with relevant links added below:
Letters to the Editor
Albuquerque Journal Rio
The Rio Grande Foundation is a strong supporter of charter schools and school choice, but we have not taken a position on the AIMS/UNM West controversy.
Nonetheless, it is important to clear up an important inaccuracy in Hope Garcia’s piece. She claims that charter schools receive more funding per-student than do traditional public schools. The Legislative Finance Committee report on which this information is based failed to include building and infrastructure expenses which are conveniently provided for traditional public schools, but not for charters.
A new, unbiased and all-inclusive report from University of Arkansas, published in the Journal of School Choice, looked at total per-pupil funding and found that New Mexico charter schools receive $365 less per pupil than traditional public schools.
While it is tough to parse all of the specific issues inherent in the AIMS/UNM West controversy, there is no doubt that money is a big part of the issue. This is yet another argument for an education funding system that provides resources directly to students and their families as opposed to bureaucracies. After all, our education system is supposed to serve students for their educational benefit, not systems and bureaucracies.
At 45 just words, the First Amendment has been a bulwark in protecting unpopular speech in the United States for more than 200 years. Whether that speech involved flag burning, the KKK, or unpopular political speech, the Amendment’s clear and concise statement that “Congress shall make no law…” has been an exceptionally-American statement of principal.
The First Amendment remains a clear statement by the American Founders that “democracy” or popular rule must be restrained in our republican form of government. Popular speech needs no special protections.
From reading the media these days, one might believe that political speech undertaken by the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, and other politically-active Americans are less popular than the KKK. None other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called the Koch’s “un-American” for engaging in the political process.
So, why would the head of New Mexico’s free market think tank write about the First Amendment right now? One reason is that our own political representatives, led by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are working right now to undermine free speech by amending the First Amendment.
In fairness, Udall, the lead sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 19 which would give Congress new powers to regulate fundraising in federal campaign, is at least taking the proper approach (the amendment process) to abridge Americans’ free speech. A previous “campaign-finance law,” McCain-Feingold, nonetheless passed Congress and was signed by then-President George W. Bush only to see large portions thrown out by the Supreme Court.
Why would elected US Senators take it upon themselves to undermine the First Amendment when it has done so much to protect Americans for hundreds of years? After all, so many components of the Bill of Rights have been eroded over the years yet Americans’ freedom of speech remains the envy of the world.
For starters, Udall and his co-sponsors (as well as previous speech-limiters John McCain and Russ Feingold) all have one thing in common: they launched their assaults on political speech as incumbent politicians. McCain-Feingold was often called the “Incumbent Protection Act” because it placed limits on the ability of outside groups and challengers to raise money…money that could be used to unseat incumbent politicians.
Incumbents, with their ability to send mail at taxpayer expense via the franking privilege, gain favorable media attention through event appearances and legislative initiatives, and fundraise from Washington insiders whose livelihoods they often control, have tremendous advantages over even the best-funded challenger. In 2012, with Congressional approval ratings at record lows, an astonishing 9 in 10 members of the U.S. House and Senate who sought new terms this year were successful.
Yes, money in politics is not always attractive. Election season television and radio barrages are annoying. And there is no doubt that special interests of all political persuasions are adept at using both money and manpower for their own benefit.
But as long as long as government bureaucrats and elected officials control large swaths of the American economy, big money, will find its way into the system. After all, total government spending now exceeds 40 percent of US GDP and new regulations that could make or break businesses and even industries are put forth daily. People with resources at stake are going to find a way to influence those decisions.
Ironically, the Koch Brothers are among a small group that spends large sums not to increase political control over economy, but to reduce it through less government spending, smaller government, and greater personal freedom. For that they are vilified mercilessly by politicians and the media. If Americans focused on taking the politics out of our economy (by reducing the government’s role) rather than money out of politics by restricting free speech, we’d all be better off.
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
I recently penned the cover article (see page 46) for “Basin Resources” on the topic of “energy independence” for their summer 2014 issue. With the amount of oil and gas coming online in the United States due to new technologies and the fracking process, some are talking anew about “energy independence,” a supposed goal of presidential administrations since the Nixon years.
Rio Grande Foundation is a huge cheerleader for exploring for and embracing those new-found energy sources, but “independence” implies abandoning free trade (or, given current prohibitions on international trade in oil and gas) failing to embrace it. This is not a wise approach for producing states like New Mexico, nor is it in line with free trade which provides benefits for a vast majority of the population. Again, check out the article which begins on page 46 here.
New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission has voted 5-0 to force the innovative ride-sharing service Lyft to stop offering its services in New Mexico. Given the anti-competitive nature of New Mexico’s laws governing taxis and other modes of public transportation, this is no surprise.
These laws were indeed reformed slightly in recent years, but the best that could be achieved was a reduction in regulations. Obviously, nothing close to a free market was achieved and it won’t be achieved until the government no longer has authority over market.
What would have been nice is if the PRC had taken a “wait-and-see” approach with Lyft and at least given the service the opportunity to either provide its customers with a good, safe service or fail to do so with either the PRC shutting them down or (more likely) the market and the lack of customers doing so. The real shame here is that the PRC is stifling fun, innovation, and is ultimately making life in New Mexico (Albuquerque in particular) a little less interesting. In other words, they’re not “protecting” the public, rather the PRC is protecting the status quo of the taxi industry.
With the drumbeat of bad economic news continuing in the Land of Enchantment, the pronouncements of its leading economic analysts and journalists take on added importance. Winthrop Quigley is the business and economics reporter at the state’s largest newspaper. He’s also by no means a “knee-jerk” free market adherent…but he may be coming around a bit if today’s column is any indicator.
Quigley reiterates the need for New Mexico to ween itself off of dependence on Washington. As the following chart illustrates, entitlements are consuming more of the budget while defense and other priorities are consuming a smaller portion of the budget. This is bad news for a state like New Mexico.
Quigley accurately notes that the Democrats’ assertions that raising the minimum wage are, to say the least, not going to lead to stronger economic growth.
I don’t know why Quigley thinks that a state-controlled investment fund is required to spur economic growth in New Mexico considering that New Mexico already has the third-largest such fund among US states.
Finally, Quigley states “I have some sympathy for right-to-work laws, but some folks are expecting too much from right to work.” Rio Grande Foundation has been at the forefront in studying/promoting the benefits a Right to Work law could have for New Mexico. Is such a law going to magically turn New Mexico’s economy around? It is hard to say, but adoption would be a serious first step and it must be part of any serious reform agenda.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on Swiss public policy. I have enough trouble keeping up with New Mexico, much less Washington. I had no idea before today that Switzerland had no legal minimum wage. So, a labor union attempted to have a referendum passed that would raise the nation’s minimum wage to $24.70 an hour. The move was widely-rejected by Swiss voters who defeated the mandated wage with an astonishing 76% of the vote.
According to the Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann who would undoubtedly not be welcome in the Obama Administration, “A fixed salary has never been a good way to fight the problem.”
Minister Schneider continued, “If the initiative had been accepted, it would have led to workplace losses, especially in rural areas where less qualified people have a harder time finding jobs,” he said. “The best remedy against poverty is work.”
Interestingly enough, despite having NO minimum wage, the article notes that the Swiss median income is a robust $37 an hour. This compares rather favorably to the US where minimum wages are rampant and the median wage is $16.71 an hour.
What’s the secret to Switzerland’s success? For starters, I’m sure they have a highly-skilled population which makes their GDP quite high. The country is also among the most economically-free in the world.
The notably non-interventionist Swiss also, in the same election, rejected the government’s proposed purchase of 22 new jet fighters, so there is clearly an impulse among the Swiss for fiscal restraint and limited government. Unfortunately, in the US, we spend massive amounts on incredibly-costly fighter jets of questionable benefit while the economically-illiterate promote a $15 an hour minimum wage.
One might call these tandem Swiss votes (rejecting both voodoo economics and military spending) rather “libertarian” in nature.
Recently, Rio Grande Foundation came up with a list of politically-popular, free market proposals for conservative/free market candidates for the Legislature. One of those proposals was to reduced/eliminate the requirement that candidates for New Mexico’s Legislature obtain signatures in order to serve in the body on a voluntary basis.
This proposal received attention in Ballot Access News, a national publication that tracks state regulations on ballot access, particularly for third parties.
As the publication notes, “New Mexico will probably be one of only three or four states this year with no minor party or independent candidates on the ballot in November for statewide office.” The publication went on to note that, “The biggest problem with New Mexico ballot access is the state’s unique law that says a qualified minor party must submit large petitions for each of its nominees. No other state requires the nominees of qualified political parties to submit signatures.”
The job data from April 2013 to April 2014 for New Mexico and its neighbors are as follows:
New Mexico: -5,900
The silver lining is that job losses were led by the government sector, which shed 3,700 jobs during the year. Of course, I discussed the serious problem with New Mexico’s federal over-reliance in the now-defunct Albuquerque Tribune way back in 2007. Long-term less reliance on Washington will be helpful to New Mexico’s economy and our economic prosperity, but we need policies like our neighbors have (zero income tax, right to work, or constitutional tax and spending controls) that cause businesses and employers to locate elsewhere. The potential for those reforms doesn’t make the transition any less wrenching.
Finger-pointing on a massive scale is going on in Washington right now over the bi-partisan Energy Bill which was recently killed. Our own Sen. Martin Heinrich recently blasted the bill’s death. The Bill was killed because Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to hold votes on amendments on the Keystone XL Pipeline and speed the export of liquefied natural gas.
Interestingly, while the US aims to isolate Russia for its aggressive behavior, China is on the verge of signing a deal to import Russian gas. Perhaps less obstructionism by the Obama Administration on behalf of LNG exports could have headed off this agreement? We’ll never know.
So, what about the content of the dead energy bill which managed to avoid the two major energy issues of the day (Keystone and LNG exports)? It’s mostly a bunch of special-interest tax breaks and subsidies ostensibly in support of “energy efficiency.” Ultimately, it would have had a negligible impact on US energy policy.
So, rather than passing a vanilla “do nothing” bill, Heinrich should have been pushing hard for a vote on LNG exports which would be a boon for New Mexico’s economy and Keystone XL which would have broader, positive implications for energy and economic growth.
I ran across this interesting report today. It purports to show which states make the best and worse use of the taxpayer dollars they generate and receive from Washington. I don’t think it quite does that (the issues is too complex for a simple analysis), but I did find the following chart which ranks the states on the provision of certain government services to be interesting. New Mexico is bottom-five in both education and violent crime. Our best score is on infrastructure (8th) with respectable scores on health (18) and pollution (16). Anyway, check out the link above for the full report and the info-graphic below:
Chief Executive Magazine has just come out with its annual survey of the best states for business. The results are not terrible for New Mexico considering our usual status at the absolute bottom of many of these lists (we’re 30th). But the results are striking for other reasons. Here they are:
Here are the top 10 states on the list:
Every one of theses sates except Florida and Nevada are red states, and those two are swing states (Democrats and Republicans have split the last four presidential elections there).
Now, for the bottom 10 (10 worst overall states to do business)
As the blog Federalist Papers points out:
Every single one of these states (the bottom 10) is run by Democrats.
6 out of 10 of these states are among the 10 people want to leave most. Shocking, people don’t want to live somewhere that punishes people people pursuing the American dream.
Notably, all of the top 13 states are Right to Work while none of the bottom 13 are. Four of the top 10 states have zero income tax rates while many of the bottom 10 have the highest marginal income tax rates.
New Mexico’s left-wing policy leaders love to demonize job creators, but these are the business leaders that start businesses and create the jobs our state so desperately needs.
HT: Dennis Schlessinger
We expect really smart people to be smarter than they are and for them to use their smarts to make good decisions across multiple subject areas. Two of the richest men in the world, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates) have been spending a lot of money and time on education. Unfortunately, both men, while having developed innovative and money-making products in the technology sphere, don’t seem to “get” education.
Take Zuckerberg who spent $100 million to improve Newark’s public schools. At the time, I know I thought this was a total waste of money and that if Zuckerberg wanted to do something useful with $100 million in education, he should have funded tuition scholarships to get kids OUT of failing government schools or he should have supported reform organizations like Rio Grande Foundation or the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
Well, the results are in and it now seems that Zuckerberg’s millions have been wasted. No surprise there. As I wrote just last week, the problem with our education is not principals or teachers, rather it is systemic in nature. Zuckerberg is a billionaire and he’ll get over the loss of $100 million, but a lot of good could have been done with that money, just not in the government schools.
Bill Gates has been dabbling in education for some time and has especially been active in funding and promoting “Common Core” standards. Unfortunately, Common Core doesn’t even pretend to enhance competition in choice in public education and, as George Will notes in the following, short video, Common Core actually takes education policy in the wrong direction (towards more centralization and federal control).
The Rio Grande Foundation hosted a luncheon on May 13, 2014 with Matt Kibbe, President and CEO of the grassroots/Tea Party group FreedomWorks. Kibbe is the author of “Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff” and he discussed the book and its message at the event.
Kibbe also sat down with Rob Nikolewski for a one-on-one interview that can be found here.
The City of Aztec is to be applauded for posting a variety of budget and bid information online in an effort to expand transparency and openness in local government. My organization, the Rio Grande Foundation, has been a leader in actually requesting and publishing such data online in an effort to encourage citizens and activists to be more informed and more active citizens.
A few major cities, counties, and school districts around New Mexico have taken steps towards additional transparency, but Aztec is one of the smaller cities in the state to do so. Hopefully, other governing bodies in the Four Corners (and around New Mexico) including the Cities of Farmington and Bloomfield, San Juan County, and San Juan Community College (to name just a few of the big ones) will follow Aztec’s example by publishing similar information.
One small area of improvement that we’d recommend for Aztec is to publish the actual pay for government workers (this is already public information) rather than the employee pay bands that are currently available. Employee names are not essential, but actual real-world numbers would be helpful.
The Rio Grande Foundation is currently in the process of collecting and posting information for counties, cities, school districts, and institutes of higher learning. As the information is received, we will post it on our website www.riograndefoundation.org. We’d love to have the relevant local governments do this themselves, but will continue to do so in the meantime.
A few years ago, Gov. Richardson signed legislation that created New Mexico’s Sunshine Portal. In recent years, that site has been expanded and improved. Of course, there is still a great deal of room for improvement even at the state level. The Rio Grande Foundation recently published a report encouraging the Legislature to post committee votes and hearing footage on a public website.
We the taxpayers ultimately pay the bills for our government. From employee pay to committee votes in the Legislature, this is ultimately our information and it is already public, just not necessarily in a user-friendly format. Kudos to the City of Aztec for opening up its books; it is time to encourage other Four Corners governments and New Mexico’s Legislature to become more transparent as well.
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
Recently, a representative of the New Mexico Association of Secondary School Principals wrote an opinion piece in the Albuquerque Journal defending his profession.
The most interesting part of the article comes toward the end where the author makes a clear grammatical error when he states, “Let’s not listen anymore to rhetoric that is being promoted by special interest groups that want us to believe that are schools are failing.” (emphasis added to the faulty wording which should be “our). I’ve certainly mis-typed and even mis-spelled words in my writing before, but having such a blatant error in an article written on behalf of school principals is not comforting.
More important is the sentence itself. “Special interests” want us to believe that schools are failing. I’m sure that as an educator, one gets tired of hearing about the failures of the system they are a part of, but that’s the issue, the system. As Capitol Report New Mexico reported just this week, New Mexico spends 20th most per pupil in the nation, but has some of the worst results when it comes to student achievement. Clearly something is failing.
And, yes, poverty is higher here and we have more minority students than most states, but Louisiana which has many of the same problems as New Mexico — including poor performance — has adopted the most robust school choice in the nation and an astonishing 91 percent of parents approve. If New Mexico’s principals really cared about their “customers” and wanted to improve the failing system they are a part of, wouldn’t they consider emulating Louisiana?
Steyer was recently criticized by the head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America for his vehement opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline. But now, Steyer may be picking a fight with the Obama Administration on natural gas. While Obama has been slow to approve LNG terminals to export gas, his Administration has been willing to see natural gas replace coal as a source of electricity.
But that may not be radical enough for Steyer who, as this article points out, “Tom Steyer is ready to bankroll groups opposed to all fossil fuel development – including natural gas.” The article goes on to note that “Opposition to natural gas will pit him against President Obama and his administration, including EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.”
All of this would be just an interesting slow motion train wreck among two factions of the Democratic Party were natural gas not such an important part of New Mexico’s economy.
On the flip side, legislation introduced partially in response to Russian activities in the Ukraine in support of exporting natural gas to America’s allies recently passed a House Subcommittee on a bi-partisan vote. Unfortunately, as reported by the left-wing Daily Kos Majority Leader Reid has blocked the effort to speed LNG exports in the Senate.
As bad as the Obama economy has been and continues to be, the ironic thing is that the fracking boom has salvaged any semblance of economic recovery (and cut carbon emissions, by the way). Now, the billionaire-funded hard-left is moving against even that!
Rather than describing the story at length on my own, this article from the Alamogordo Daily News really explains the situation.
The key is that a conflict between the Federal Government’s US Forest Service/Department of Agriculture and Otero County, NM. The Sheriff of Otero County, Benny House has been instructed to unlock/open four fences that are limiting access to water by cattle on Forest Service lands in the County. Again, the specific issues and jurisdictions are complex, but it is another disagreement over who should manage resources in the West, the federal government in Washington or state and local governments.
Ultimately, we at the Rio Grande Foundation have endorsed state control as per the 9th and 10th amendments to the US Constitution, but it will take the intervention and activism of local government officials to spur the discussion and ultimately drive the shift in land management away from a far-off bureaucracy to the states.
It will be interesting to see if Sheriff House unlocks those gates and how the Forest Service responds.
What a badge of honor for New Mexico; Our senior senator, Tom Udall is the lead sponsor of legislation that would put Congress in control of our free speech rights. Remember, the First Amendment which used to be really popular on the political left. That First Amendment says
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
As Paul Jacob points out at his “Common Sense” commentary, Udall’s proposed Constitutional Amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 19, would rewrite the First Amendment to give powerful congressional incumbents “complete and total control over all money to be raised or spent by their competitors.”
These are the same incumbents that “already enjoy a tremendous name recognition advantage over their challengers.” As Jacob asks, “What happens when incumbents limit campaign spending too low for challengers to compete?”
Good questions. The sad thing is that Udall’s misguided amendment has the support of 35 of anti-speech Democrats including the junior Senator from New Mexico, Martin Heinrich.
To their credit, the ACLU which supports “campaign finance reform,” also supported free speech in the Citizens United case on campaign finance. I’ll be checking with the ACLU to get their views on Udall’s anti-First Amendment amendment.