Energy, Utilities and Environment

Conservative Ideas for New Mexico’s Legislators and Candidates to Get Elected and Govern By

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.

Purchase of gas company would benefit economy

What if I told you that a business was planning to make close to a billion dollar investment in New Mexico? What if I told you that this company is a leader of may be a potential revolution in automobile fueling and technology and that they could help our state make the transition to cleaner, more affordable fuel for automobiles?

No, I’m not talking about Tesla which has, aside from the recent exploits of local basketball teams, been the talk of the state. I’m talking about the proposed purchase of New Mexico Gas Co. (NMGC), currently owned by New York City-based Continental Energy by Tampa-based TECO Energy.

Bringing Tesla to New Mexico could be a home run for New Mexico’s economy, but having a natural gas company that is owned by a utility company with a 115 year track record of serving its customers – as opposed to a hedge fund – could be at least a double.

For those who are concerned about rates and prices, TECO has proposed that NMGC customer rates will be frozen until at least July 2017. NMGC will retain its name, and its headquarters will remain in Albuquerque. While New Mexico’s economy has struggled mightily in recent years, TECO’s management is “bullish” on New Mexico. The company’s CEO John Ramil recently was quoted as saying, “The Company is looking at New Mexico to be a growing state, and New Mexico Gas Co. to continue its growth.
Given the onslaught of negative economic news from our state in recent years, it is wonderful to have a business that sees our state’s growth potential looking to come here and invest.

A positive attitude is an important factor, but the real potential for New Mexico lies in TECO’s willingness to replicate its successful Florida model of investing in filling stations for vehicles that use clean natural gas produced right here in New Mexico. Due to broader market forces and newly-discovered supplies, natural gas prices remain at historically-low levels, spurring calls for increased investments in fueling stations.

In fact, whether the fuel in question is gasoline, electricity, or natural gas, a large national network of filling stations is an absolute necessity in order for alternative fuels to become widespread.

TECO has a proven track record and stated interest in investing in infrastructure and the communities it serves. NMGC which is currently owned by a hedge fund with a business model that involves purchasing and “flipping” under-valued assets is unlikely to make such investments.

One final point on the importance of the NMGC sale is the need for government bodies to respect free markets and a business’ desire to sell a company that does business in New Mexico to another business. It is one thing for regulatory bodies to stand in the way of such transactions for tangible, specific reasons. It is another thing to stand in front of these business transactions out of abstract fears.

My organization has worked assiduously to research and explain how New Mexico can improve its economy. While there are myriad issues to overcome before our state becomes truly business-friendly, there is no easier way to become a pariah among investors and businesses than to be seen as a place where once you have invested resources, you are unable to sell those investments.

Venezuela and Argentina are just two nations whose economies have suffered greatly from such capricious state actions. New Mexico should not fall into that trap.

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

Rio Grande Foundation submits comments to NM PRC in support of NM Gas Co. sale to TECO Energy

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission
PO Box 1269
Santa Fe, NM 87504-1269
Case number: 13-00231-UT
prc [dot] records [at] state [dot] nm [dot] us

Comments to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission on the purchase of New Mexico Gas by TECO Energy

On behalf of the Rio Grande Foundation, utility customers, and advocates of freedom throughout New Mexico, I urge you to approve of the proposed TECO purchase of New Mexico Gas Co.

For starters, New Mexico Gas is currently owned by an equity or hedge fund. This was always expected to be a temporary situation. It would be far better for New Mexico Gas to be owned by TECO, a utility company with a 115 year track record of serving its customers.

For those who are concerned about rates and prices, TECO has proposed that NMGC customer rates will be frozen until at least July 2017. NMGC will retain its name, and its headquarters will remain in Albuquerque. While New Mexico’s economy has struggled mightily in recent years, TECO’s management is “bullish” on New Mexico. The company’s CEO John Ramil recently was quoted as saying, “The Company is looking at New Mexico to be a growing state, and New Mexico Gas Co. to continue its growth.
Given the onslaught of negative economic news from our state in recent years, it is wonderful to have a business that sees our state’s growth potential looking to come here and invest.

A positive attitude is an important factor, but the real potential for New Mexico lies in TECO’s willingness to replicate its successful Florida model of investing in filling stations for vehicles that use clean natural gas produced right here in New Mexico. Due to broader market forces and newly-discovered supplies, natural gas prices remain at historically-low levels, spurring calls for increased investments in fueling stations.

In fact, whether the fuel in question is gasoline, electricity, or natural gas, a large national network of filling stations is an absolute necessity in order for alternative fuels to become widespread.

TECO has a proven track record and stated interest in investing in infrastructure and the communities it serves. NMGC which is currently owned by a hedge fund with a business model that involves purchasing and “flipping” under-valued assets is unlikely to make such investments.

One final point on the importance of the NMGC sale is the need for government bodies to respect free markets and a business’ desire to sell a company that does business in New Mexico to another business. It is one thing for regulatory bodies to stand in the way of such transactions for tangible, specific reasons. It is another thing to stand in front of these business transactions out of abstract fears.

My organization has worked assiduously to research and explain how New Mexico can improve its economy. While there are myriad issues to overcome before our state becomes truly business-friendly, there is no easier way to become a pariah among investors and businesses than to be seen as a place where once you have invested resources, you are unable to sell those investments.

Venezuela and Argentina are just two nations whose economies have suffered greatly from such capricious state actions. New Mexico should not fall into that trap.

I urge the PRC to allow the proposed sale to go through.

Sincerely,

Paul J. Gessing
President
Rio Grande Foundation
PO Box 40336
Albuquerque, NM 87196
505-264-6090

Incredible 31 percent of NM budget derived from oil and gas

Thanks to the show Breaking Bad, many Americans now realize that they don’t need passports to visit New Mexico. We surely appreciate the publicity. But New Mexicans have reason to be even more grateful to another industry.

The New Mexico Tax Research Institute (NMTRI) recently released a study entitled Fiscal Impacts of Oil and Natural Gas Production in New Mexico. It’s impressively researched, including detailed county-level analyses. The results show that absent the tremendous financial impact of the oil and gas industries, New Mexico would be a far different, poorer state.

NMTRI found that 31.5% of the state’s General Fund revenues—the primary source of funding for state public schools and higher education—come from taxes paid by the oil and natural gas industries. The General Fund also pays for state public welfare programs, environmental protection, tourism advertising and support, road construction and maintenance, and many other functions of state government.

Time to update NM broadband regulations to encourage competition

Other than Marty McFly’s time-traveling DeLorean, 1985 is the distant past in terms of technology. Yet some of New Mexico’s phone carriers are still regulated under a law passed that year – before the World Wide Web was created and before wireless broadband connectivity became the norm for our multitude of digital devices. Carriers are governed under different sets of rules, leading to an overly-complicated regulatory mix that hampers competition among carriers and discourages private investment in the state’s telecommunications infrastructure.

SB 152, which has been introduced in the 2014 Legislative Session seeks to harmonize the regulatory scheme, holding all carriers to the same standards. It enjoys bipartisan support from Governor Martinez (R) and Democrats such as bill sponsor Sen. Phil Griego and House Business and Industry Chair Rep. Debbie Rodella. The bill would hold all incumbent phone carriers to the same standards and apply the benefits of a 1999 rural incumbent telephone law evenly throughout the state.

New Mexico's telecom regs need to be modernized

Antiquated telecommunication regulations are holding New Mexico back. According to the 2013 Mercatus Center report "Freedom in the 50 States," New Mexico suffers under some of the heaviest regulatory burdens of any state. The Rio Grande Foundation has spent a great deal of time researching and exposing many of these burdensome regulations, which can undoubtedly improve the economic climate in New Mexico at no cost to the taxpayer.

New Mexico's broadband regulations are a classic case of overregulation that should be addressed for the good of our rural economy. Greater competition inevitably leads to lower prices and greater choice for consumers. Antiquated land line phone service providers remain regulated by a 1985 law that dates before implementation of the internet and smart-phone technology. This outdated regulatory scheme has hindered investment in rural broadband resources throughout our state. Having high-speed Internet access throughout the isolated communities of New Mexico will remain integral, if not a necessity, to spurring the rural economic growth everyone desires, while simultaneously increasing statewide effective educational opportunities.

During the current legislative session, a bi-partisan bill has been introduced that will modernize and improve these regulations in a positive and productive manner to encourage greater private sector broadband investments. A 30-day legislative session is brief, but this modest regulatory improvement of New Mexico's stale broadband regulations can be one commonsense reform that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

I urge all New Mexicans to support SB 152.

Tom Mullins
Board Member, Rio Grande Foundation
Candidate foro US Congress, 3rd District

Are your legislators voting for or against freedom?

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.”

Berry's Wi-Fi Proposal Sends Bad Signal

The Rio Grande Foundation has generally supported Mayor Berry’s leadership as Mayor. Obviously, large numbers of Albuquerque voters agree with his fiscally-conservative, personally moderate style of leadership as the Mayor was re-elected with 68 percent of the vote.

Every day mayors and other politicians face the temptation to join the latest fad in the hopes of finding a dramatic way to use government on the theory that expanding government beyond the basics will result in improved economic growth.

Back when Mayor Berry took office, the idea being pushed by some was a new taxpayer-financed events center/arena. Thankfully, we convinced the Mayor not to go down that path which would have significantly worsened our city’s economic condition.

The newest idea is for the City to spend up to $1 million to create a public wi-fi network around Central Avenue. While well-intentioned, municipal wi-fi efforts have a long track record of failure to achieve technical goals (speed and coverage), they also have a long track record of cost overruns.

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