A freedom outlook for New Mexico’s 2015 legislative session
Posted By Paul Gessing On January 20, 2015 @ 1:13 pm
By Paul Gessing | Watchdog Opinion
The 2014 elections represented nothing less than a seismic shift in New Mexico’s political system. Gov. Martinez won re-election handily, but the real story was the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives for the first time in 62 years.
For New Mexico, this political shift is nothing less than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve itself. New Mexico has traditionally struggled with high poverty rates, poor education levels, and an over-reliance on both federal spending and mercurial commodity prices, particularly oil and natural gas.
In recent years, oil and gas alone have generated 31 percent of New Mexico’s General Fund revenues. Also, according to data from the Mercatus Center, New Mexico topped the nation with 32 percent of its workforce occupied in public-sector and federal-contract jobs as a percentage of total jobs.
With federal employment stagnant, natural gas prices continuing to hover at historically-low levels and the recent collapse in oil and gas prices, policymakers in the Land of Enchantment face a dire need to jump-start the State’s weak private sector. An indicator of that weakness is that New Mexico is home to only one publicly-traded company headquarters, those of PNM, the State’s largest utility.
What is to be done?
For starters, the Legislature is going to be considering several labor reforms, most notably “right to work” legislation. Currently, 24 states have such laws on the books. These laws simply prohibit union membership or the payment of union dues as a condition of employment. Recently, “rust-belt” states of Indiana and Michigan have adopted similar laws.
Before our debate in Las Cruces (and thus before the election or the Virgin Galactic crash), I sat down to discuss the issues of the day with former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber for a discussion with Fred Martino on KRWG's Newsmakers.
(Albuquerque, NM) — New Mexico’s only free market think tank, the Rio Grande Foundation, is hosting an hour-long radio show on 770 KKOB starting this Saturday, August 16, from noon to 1pm. The show will air every two weeks through at least the end of 2014. The show, entitled “New Mexico Freedom Hour” will focus on economic and education issues here in New Mexico with an eye towards real solutions that have been tried in other states. The format will involve interviews of guests from across the political spectrum and phone calls from the public. The call-in number is: 505-243-3333. Said Rio Grande Foundation president and primary host, Paul Gessing, “This show offers the listeners a unique forum in which to learn about and discuss the ways in which free markets and limited government can help everyday New Mexicans lead better lives. Show topics will include labor freedom, taxation, education reform, and an economic history of New Mexico to name just a few.
American Enterprise Institute Education expert Rick Hess spoke yesterday at Rio Grande Foundation events in Albuquerque and Roswell. His Albuquerque remarks were video-recorded and are available below. The Albuquerque Journal covered Hess' talk and that article is available here.
The Rio Grande Foundation has requested 2013 payroll information for New Mexico’s 16 institutes of higher education (universities, junior colleges, and community colleges). The Foundation has posted this information online in order to make information that is technically “public” (available upon request) more readily-available than before.
The Foundation was able to access records for 15 of New Mexico’s 16 institutes with only New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) failing to comply with the Foundation’s requests.
One institute, New Mexico Tech, failed to comply. A representative of New Mexico Tech stated that employee payroll information was available only in printed format at significant cost.
On the flip side, Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing noted with appreciation that “University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College both post payroll on a publicly-accessible website. This should be the model pursed by all schools”
Gessing continued, saying “New Mexico’s taxpayers support each of these institutes of higher learning. In this day and age with the modern Internet now 20 years old, important public information should be proactively published online for the public to access. While the Rio Grande Foundation is happy to request public records on the public’s behalf, it is unacceptable to not have such basic information readily-available or to not respond to repeated and varied requests.”
Click on the name of each school to access the 2013 payroll of that institute.
New Mexico State University (also includes Doña Ana Community College)
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology: “cannot comply”
Paul Gessing recently appeared on KNAT TV to discuss the Rio Grande Foundation's "Freedom Index," the results of the 2014 legislative session, what issues were dealt with, and which policy ideas need to be discussed in order to turn New Mexico's struggling economy and education systems around. Interview lasts about 15 minutes.
When it comes to government in a democracy, it is far easier to play the role of Santa Clause than Uncle Scrooge. In other words, it is easier to say “yes” than it is to say “no” when it comes to spending other peoples’ money and using government regulations to benefit special interest groups. As any parent knows, saying “yes” feels better in the short-run, but saying “no” is often better in the long-run.
“Unfortunately,” says Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing, “New Mexico policymakers have been saying ‘yes’ for too long and needs a healthy helping of ‘no’ when it comes to government spending and regulations. The good news,” says Gessing “is that there are many free market policies that would be good for New Mexico’s economy and education system while also being quite popular with average voters.”
The Rio Grande Foundation has compiled some of the best of these ideas into a list entitled, Common-Sense Ideas for a Conservative Majority in the New Mexico House. This paper is available at our website and it includes specific policy ideas and relevant polling data and arguments that should make these ideas a proverbial “slam-dunk.”
The document should be an invaluable resource as conservatives look to gain control of New Mexico’s House of Representatives for the first time in more than 60 years. Several of the ideas outlined have been introduced as legislation in the past including elimination of 3rd grade social promotion and creation of a system of tax credits for school choice. Ending “worker’s compensation” payments to drunk or drugged workers who injure themselves on the job and taking action to restore federally-controlled lands in New Mexico to state control are also included.
Other ideas involve opening New Mexico government to greater public involvement by eliminating unnecessary signature requirements for New Mexico’s volunteer legislature (or at least making the requirements equitable among the various political parties) and allowing for remote testimony in legislative committees.
Lastly, the Rio Grande Foundation offers several popular and free market reform ideas that have been implemented in other states. Such ideas include amending New Mexico’s Constitution to require voter approval for all tax hikes at the state or local levels, repealing New Mexico’s onerous “prevailing wage” law which increases construction costs for projects like roads and schools by 15 percent or more, and shifting all new government workers out of New Mexico’s failing “defined benefit” pension plan and into user-controlled-and-directed “defined contribution” plans.
I sat down with Margaret Ortiz at TBN for a discussion of the issues moving through the 2014 legislative session. Things are happening fast at this point at the Roundhouse, but this interview remains relevant as it touches on the big, controversial issues facing legislators: