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:
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.
The article below ran at the newly-relaunched NMPolitics.net which is managed by the indefatigable Heath Haussamen. We are thrilled to have Heath back at the helm of NMPolitics.net. Check out the site for more content provided by the Rio Grande Foundation and other political and policy voices from across the political spectrum.
During the 2015 legislative session various proposals were put forth, ostensibly with the goal of improving New Mexico’s roads. One proposal by Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur-Smith would have increased the State’s gas tax by fully 10 cents per-gallon while tying future increases to inflation.
Smith’s plan, if passed, would have represented a 59 percent increase in New Mexico’s gas tax (from 17 to 27 cents per-gallon). It is one thing to claim that we need to spend more on infrastructure and to raise revenues accordingly. It is another thing entirely to claim, as Smith did in an opinion piece, that spending an “additional $140 million annually for road jobs” will be an economic boon.
Before we hike taxes and spend another $140 million on roads, it is important to ask whether New Mexico needs more money for roads in the first place. That is an open question. Certainly, anyone who drives around New Mexico has their “pet” pothole, bottleneck, or bumpy road that they wish could be addressed, but relative to other states, New Mexico’s roads are pretty good.
According to the Reason Foundation’s (Reason is a free market organization that does a great deal of work on infrastructure issues) latest national analysis, New Mexico’s highway system ranked 7th among the 50 states for performance and cost-effectiveness. Each of our neighbors scored lower. New Mexico’s best marks came in maintenance disbursements per mile (1st), capital-bridge disbursements per mile (6th), and rural arterial pavement condition (6th).
Of course, our roads can always be better, but that doesn’t necessarily require higher taxes. We could use the resources we have more efficiently. The simplest way to make our road budget go further would be to eliminate New Mexico’s “Davis-Bacon” law which artificially raises labor costs on public works projects. The House passed a reduction in those rates during the 2015 session. It should eliminate “prevailing wage” laws entirely and allow construction workers to be paid market wages.
A report done by Ohio’s Legislature found that eliminating a similar provision on school construction in that state led to a 10.7 percent reduction in the total cost of each school. Similar savings would likely be experienced by paying market wages on roads as well. Eliminating New Mexico’s “prevailing wage” would give us 15 percent more road construction and maintenance.
Some New Mexicans have convinced themselves that the challenges facing the state's highways require a higher gasoline tax. They're wrong, and here's why.
First, the true condition of New Mexico's roads contrasts with the oft-heard claims that they are "crumbling" and "in disrepair." In the Reason Foundation’s latest national analysis, the overall performance and cost-effectiveness of New Mexico’s highways ranked seventh. States graded worse included our neighbors Texas (11th), Arizona (19th), Oklahoma (22nd), Utah (29th), and Colorado (33rd).
New Mexico scored its best marks in maintenance disbursements per mile (1st), capital-bridge disbursements per mile (6th) and rural arterial pavement condition (6th).
Still there's no denying that the revenue needed to build and maintain highways is stagnant. Autos are becoming more efficient, and Millennials do not drive as much as previous generations. Between the 2009 and 2014 fiscal years, New Mexico's road fund rose from $371.1 million to $380.6 million. Adjusted for inflation, the increase became a small decline.
There is a battle under way in New Mexico over whether to be happy with the status quo or to enact free market reforms that will improve our state. Based on his efforts this session and his recent attack on me and my organization, it is clear that Sen. Michael Sanchez is in the former camp and I and my organization are in the other.
Sanchez seems to believe that he and his liberal allies will regain total control of New Mexico’s political system again soon and that this recent spate of political competitiveness is temporary. Unfortunately for Sanchez, increasing numbers of New Mexicans see that surrounding states with free market policies in place are generating jobs and prosperity for their citizens. They wonder why we can’t have the same here.
Young people wonder why they have to leave New Mexico to find a decent job. Parents wonder why they are forced to spend $11,000 per pupil annually (more than the US average according to the NEA) while their children attend schools that dramatically underperform those in other states.
In New Mexico, old economic-development habits are hard to break.
The pressure for a special legislative session to pass a capital-outlay bill exemplifies the political establishment’s inability to understand the policies that foster a dynamic and diversified economy. Republicans and Democrats, architects and artists, businesses and unions are complaining the 2015 regular session failed to appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars for what Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, called “critical community infrastructure.”
Construction/maintenance of roads, highways, libraries, airports, hospitals, museums and schools is reflexively viewed as an unalloyed good. But it’s important to remember that capital expenditures are funded not by a magical money tree, but income redistribution. Whether the infrastructure projects are paid for by the statewide property tax (general-obligation bonds), levies on natural resources (severance-tax bonds), the gas tax (transportation bonds), or general-fund revenue, there is no free lunch.
This op-ed ran in The (Farmington) Daily Times on March 1, 2015.
On January 1, 2005, food bought at New Mexico's grocery stores was excluded from the gross receipts tax, or GRT. In exchange for the break, the GRT was hiked on all other purchases.
A decade later, it's clear that the tax shift was a mistake.
With several proposals before the legislature to reinstate the GRT on food, it's time for an honest examination of how and why the well-meaning exemption failed.
Many of the state's liberal activists and organizations opposed ending the food tax. In 2003, New Mexico Voices for Children argued that the "very poorest people will not receive the benefits," because most "use food stamps, which are not subject to gross receipts taxes." (A staggering 21.5 percent of our citizens participate in the federal program.) In addition, many household essentials such as soap, paper products, and toothpaste remained taxable. Utility and motor-fuels taxes were not touched, either.