There has been a decent amount of discussion in New Mexico over the future of Amtrak's Southwest Chief. The train runs on the tracks that were purchased by the State for the Rail Runner and run from Raton in the north through Albuquerque. The train then runs West through Gallup and Grants, but New Mexico doesn't own those tracks.
Amtrak is demanding improvements to the tracks or they won't run the trains anymore. As noted in the story, Gov. Martinez put up $1 million of our tax dollars as a "down payment" on the $4 million annually that Amtrak is asking for states through which the Southwest Chief runs.
The interview is below. My interview starts around the halfway mark. One interesting note is that the reporter who did the story is based out of Los Angeles. Even though the Southwest Chief travels between New Mexico and Los Angeles, as he notes, he flew home.
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.
Since 2009, New Mexico has waived federal work requirements tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Over 21 percent of all New Mexicans receive food stamps, leaving us behind only Mississippi.
Gov. Susana Martinez’ Administration has proposed to reinstate rules limiting able-bodied people – including parents of children older than six-years – to three months of SNAP benefits unless they work, do volunteer work, or attend job training classes at least 20 hours per week. Children and the myriad food programs targeted at them and those who simply cannot work are not up for changes.
New Mexico is not alone in re-instating these modest requirements. According to a September 2014 report from the Pew Center, no fewer than 17 states were working to re-instate work requirements on able-bodied adults.
In 2014 Maine re-imposed a three-month limit (out of every three-year period) on food stamps for able-bodied adults without minor dependents — unless they work 20 hours per week, take state job-training courses or volunteer for about six hours per week. The number of such people receiving food stamps in Maine has dropped nearly 80 percent since the rule kicked in, to 2,530 from about 12,000.
Maine’s work requirement has been in effect for about a year now without a reported increase in hunger. No reports of dire or exacerbated hunger exist for the decade-plus during which this policy was in effect nationwide from the time of the welfare reforms enacted by then-President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress in the mid-1990s.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the latest bailout, Greece remains deeply-troubled. The crisis has manifested itself due to Europe’s single currency, the Euro. Greece cannot pay its bills, but because of the Euro, it cannot devalue its currency either. So a series of bailouts and “austerity” measures have been imposed.
This is a quick synopsis of the Greek situation, but what are the parallels for New Mexico?
In July of 2011, The Economist magazine noted one interesting parallel when an article “Greek Americans” noted which U.S. states are most reliant on transfers from Washington for fiscal support. According to the article, New Mexico was the most reliant U.S. state in the nation by far.
It is true that unlike Greece, the U.S. has a long-standing single fiscal policy and a culture (200+ years) of unified action. Greece could easily leave or be kicked out of the currency union after only a few decades of unity. That is not likely to happen to New Mexico.
Dr. Matthew Ladner spoke at the Rio Grande Foundation's "Milton Friedman Day" celebration on New Mexico's Impending Demographic Challenges and How Policymakers Can Cope. His slides can be accessed here.
Ladner, an optimist by nature, had some sobering words for the event attendees. As Ladner made clear, so many things in our society are improving and our economy is more productive than ever, but our education system has seen growth in employment without similar growth in productivity or improved outputs.
As Ladner notes, there are successful education reform models including the one implemented in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The entire public school system was turned into charter schools with some significant, positive results:
Reforming and improving the education system, notes Ladner, is all the more important with New Mexico's elderly population set to explode in the years ahead according to new demographic research by Ladner. According to Ladner. In fact, as Ladner notes New Mexico's working age will shrink as a percentage of the total population, with the Land of Enchantment projected to have the highest total age dependency ratio in the nation in 2030.
In New Mexico's case the increase in the total age dependency ratio projects to be entirely due to a near doubling of the elderly population between 2010 and 2030.
Dr. Ladner is Senior Advisor of Policy and Research with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He previously worked with the Rio Grande Foundation to bring the “Florida Model” for education reform to New Mexico.
Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America's K-12 public education funding.
I was recently in Las Cruces and had a chance to sit down with Fred Martino of KRWG (the public television station in Las Cruces) to discuss what happened in the 2015 legislative session and special session. Las Cruces area state Representative Bill McCamley, a Democrat, was also on the air and, believe it or not, we found a few areas of agreement.
(Albuquerque) The proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line is a solution in search of a problem, and our bankrupt federal government should steer clear of providing 80 percent of the infrastructure costs for this unnecessary project. That’s the conclusion of a new Rio Grande Foundation report, “Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus,” which analyzes the case for bus rapid transit along Central Avenue in New Mexico’s largest city.
“Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus,” authored by Rio Grande Foundation Research Director Dowd Muska, argues that the current Rapid Ride bus system along Central has been quite successful in generating ridership. Muska wonders what benefits, in terms of mobility, the new system will provide that the current system does not.
In fact, as Muska argues, in addition to the temporary construction which would tie up traffic throughout the Central corridor, the BRT would limit motorists’ left turns onto Central while removing two traffic lanes to make way for buses. The loss of traffic lanes would result in the elimination of parking along some of Central’s busiest corridors.
The cost estimate being put forth by the city today is likely to rise once construction gets underway, argues Muska. “Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus” cites Willie Brown, a former California politician, who once said, “In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”
Ultimately, as Muska notes, BRT advocates are less concerned about mobility within the Central Corridor than they are about “redevelopment” in the area. Advocates claim that so-called “Millennials” are avoiding Albuquerque in search of more densely packed urban areas.
This claim simply doesn’t hold water. As Muska points out, sprawling Western cities such as Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Dallas are growing rapidly and attracting young people. Albuquerque’s poor job growth is the likeliest reason for the city’s ongoing struggles to draw and keep Millennials.
With Washington trillions of dollars in debt, “Throwing Taxpayers under the Bus” concludes that an Albuquerque transit project in need of a purpose is unworthy of federal taxpayer dollars.