Economy

2015 New Mexico Friedman Day Celebration: Dr. Matt Ladner shares some scary demographic data & how educational choice can alleviate the problem

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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.

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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.

Gessing and Rep. Bill McCamley discuss 2015 Legislative activities on KRWG TV

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.

Federal Government Should Take a Pass on Albuquerque’s Proposed Bus Rapid Transit System

(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.

Television interview: 2015 New Mexico Legislature special session recap

Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing recently sat down with KNAT TV to discuss the results of the 2015 special legislative session and its passage of a capital outlay bill and a small tax cut package.

Of Groceries, Ray Guns, and the Gross Receipts Tax

Happy New Fiscal Year. Ready for higher taxes?

Starting July 1, furniture, haircuts, toys, shoes, lawn care, and milkshakes will be more expensive for most New Mexicans. The gross receipts tax (GRT), the dominant source of local-government revenue, will rise in many communities, including Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, Roswell, Las Vegas, Deming, and Silver City.

In Santa Fe, the rate is slated to increase from 8.1875 percent to 8.3125 percent. But not if the city has its way. A few weeks ago, the City Different filed a taxpayer-friendly lawsuit to block the GRT hike the county adopted in March. Citing state statutes, Santa Fe -- as well as Española and several local businesses -- allege that "within the boundaries" of incorporated Santa Fe County municipalities, the tax should not apply.

It's up to the courts to decide the validity of the lawsuit. What's not in dispute is that the the city-county faceoff would not exist were it not for governors' and legislators' never-ending tinkering with the GRT. When Santa Fe's commissioners adopted the one-eight-of-a-cent tax increase three months ago, it was justified as a way to raise money to compensate for funds the state would no longer provide. The soon-to-be-ended subsidy was created to ease the fiscal pain of the 2005 removal of groceries from the GRT.

Freer trade could help New Mexico oil and gas industry

No matter what one thinks about recent battles over Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans Pacific Partnership, freer trade would be good for New Mexico's main private sector industry (oil and gas). In this case, as I argue below, freer trade would impact the industries from different angles.

Photo by Rob Nikolewski

When it comes to New Mexico’s economy, there are no bigger players than the oil and gas industries which, combined, contribute 31 percent of the general fund. Natural gas prices remain at historically-depressed levels. Since spiking during the winter of 2014 when the East Coast of the United States saw a series of cold snaps, the Henry Hub price has been on a steady decline. Throughout 2015, prices have been below the historically-low $3/mmbtu line.

Oil prices on the other hand, were elevated until July of 2014 when prices began a steep slide from $100/barrel to less than half that price by January of 2015.

Unfortunately for the industry and contrary to the beliefs of many Americans (at least when prices are elevated), oil and gas producers have little control over the price point at which they sell their product. Collectively, the oil and gas industries can (and have) cut production, but this is a painful and unappetizing process.

Steve McKee's talk: How New Mexico Can Beat Texas for Real

New Mexico businessman and entrepreneur Steve McKee was the keynote speaker at a recent Rio Grande Foundation luncheon. He gave an optimistic and detailed talk about the ways in which New Mexico policymakers can turn our state around and even beat Texas in the process. Check out the informative and even inspirational talk below:

NM Supreme Court wage decision will further drive up public construction costs, column

The price of roads and schools just went up in New Mexico. New Mexico is already a mini-"Davis-Bacon" state which means that taxpayers pay substantially more (or get 10-15% less) in the way of schools, roads, and other state-funded projects (like those funded in the recently-passed capital outlay bill). Under Gov. Bill Richardson, legislation was passed that increased the labor premium under "Davis-Bacon" for public works projects. The Martinez Administration had been attempting to soften the blow of that legislation, but the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled this week that her actions were illegal.

I recently wrote a column discussing New Mexico's flawed capital funding process and how repeal of our "Davis-Bacon" law is key to improving our school buildings and roads. The article appeared at both Watchdog and NMPolitics.net.

Infrastructure and how to pay for it has been a topic of great interest recently. The Legislature returned to Santa Fe with the primary purpose of passing a capital outlay bill. Also, as David Abbey, Chair of the Public School Capital Outlay Council told legislators in testimony recently, New Mexico’s schools were facing serious funding problems.

Among Abbey’s concerns was the volatility of funding due to oil and gas prices. Abbey also said there are more needed projects than available funding. Abbey’s most newsworthy statement was that there are 16 schools that are in such poor shape they need to be torn down.

Notably, the problem is not inadequate spending. According to data from the National Education Association, New Mexico’s per-capita capital spending on K-12 schools was 7th-highest in the nation for the most recent school year on record.

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