Okay, technically Sunshine Week was last week, but it was also Spring Break at NMSU. So, 2016's Sunshine Week celebration will be held this Wednesday, March 23rd at 5:30 p.m. at Zuhl Library on the New Mexico State University Campus. Aside from Gessing, panelists will include: Sen. Joseph Cervantes, Daniel Chand of the NMSU Government Department, Viki Harrison of Common Cause and City Councilor Gill Sorg.
The primary topic of discussion will be the influence of "outside groups" in the 2015 Las Cruces municipal election. There are some in Las Cruces who would like to see local election laws changed to prohibit "outsiders" from engaging in Las Cruces area municipal elections. I'm not sure how this topic is even tangentially related to shining light on GOVERNMENT, but it is the topic and you can bet that the Rio Grande Foundation will defend the 1st Amendment right of individuals to engage in the political process no matter where they reside.
You can also bet that this will (sadly) be a minority position on the panel.
The event is free and open to the public.
Author and scientist Robert Zubrin discusses his book "Merchants of Despair" which connects the modern environmental movement all the way back to the eugenics movement of the early 20th Century. His presentation is available below and his slides are here.
The aftermath of the 2016 Legislative session is still being discussed and parsed, but the liberal New Mexico Voices for Children think tank is already clamoring for the next expansion of New Mexico government. The issue this time is paid sick leave. Naturally Voices, which views every societal “nail” in need of a government “hammer,” has a government-driven solution.
New Mexico private sector workers are, according to a new report, offered sick leave at a lower rate than similar workers in any other state. To be honest, we at the Rio Grande Foundation share the concerns expressed by Voices on this. We’d like to see more workers paid better and offered employee benefits.
The difference lies in our proposed solutions to the problem.
We view the issue through the lens of recent news reports that an astonishing 10,000 people applied for 290 job openings at the new Cheesecake Factory in Albuquerque. Obviously, there is an over-supply of relatively low-skilled labor in both Albuquerque and New Mexico as a whole. This is a market reality driven by New Mexico’s historical over-reliance on federal dollars and extractive industries.
If you haven't already heard, SandRidge Energy which had applied for a permit to drill in Sandoval County, has pulled its application. Certainly, low oil and gas prices may be an issue, but so was strident and vocal opposition.
As I wrote in an opinion piece published awhile back in the Rio Rancho Observer, "it’s not like New Mexico can afford to simply kick investors out. We have the nation’s highest unemployment rate. The state budget is flat due largely to the decline in oil and gas prices. And, in recent years, despite the self-evident beauty of our state and its great weather, New Mexico has seen more people — especially young ones — leaving than are coming in."
Recently, investors looking to do business in New Mexico, bringing jobs and economic development to our state, received a harsh lesson in NIMBY (Not in my backyard) politics.
Unfortunately, while we’ve come to expect anti-oil and gas hysteria in places like Mora and Santa Fe counties, relatively conservative Rio Rancho and Sandoval County are apparently not immune.
I’m referring, of course, to SandRidge Energy’s plans to drill an exploratory well in the county on privately-owned land west of Rio Rancho. The NIMBY crowd was out in full-force with one man saying he “only” lives eight miles from the proposed site and that it was simply too close.
Yes, oil prices are down right now. And, SandRidge Energy will probably give the mob what it wants and walk away from the project.
If you haven't heard the news, the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently held a well-attended public hearing in Farmington on the issue of "venting and flaring" of methane from natural gas wells. Droves of Four Corners residents came out in opposition to the costly new regulations being considered by the Obama Administration.
This is a huge issue for Farmington, NM, in particular, as the city saw the biggest jump in unemployment last year among 387 US cities. The San Juan basin is a major producer of natural gas and, while "venting and flaring" are not optimal for the industry, the amount of "venting and flaring" in recent years has declined.
The BLM is currently accepting comments and will do so until April 8, 2016. The Rio Grande Foundation has submitted the following comments and encourages you to submit comments (click here to do so) (or at the email or mailing address below) in opposition to the proposed "venting and flaring" rule.
The budget numbers are changing (for the worse) on an almost daily basis. The latest information calls for a 12% decline in General Fund revenues which means a reduction of $700-$800 million (not factoring in rainy-day funds etc).
The point remains, as I note below, that no matter how the budget gap is filled, there are some programs that should be eliminated in their entirety prior to cuts being enacted elsewhere.
Like spring follows winter, proposals to increase taxes on hard-working New Mexicans are flourishing in Santa Fe. Dozens of such proposals have been put forth, including several by Democrat Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur-Smith. Gov. Martinez has repeatedly pledged NOT to raise taxes, so it is unlikely these proposals will be enacted, but what about the merits of the issue? Should taxes be raised in New Mexico?
One of Sen. Smith's proposals that has attracted media attention is SB 281 which would re-impose the gross receipts tax on groceries. Groceries used to be taxed just like everything else bought in the store, but when he was governor, Bill Richardson decided to eliminate the tax on groceries. The broader gross receipts tax was hiked by half a cent. This all sounds simple, but was really a complex tax-shift that the Legislature has tinkered with since it was enacted.
And now, Sen. Smith wants to again tax groceries as a means of raising revenues in tight budgetary times. Taxing food is not an inherently bad idea, but it shouldn't be done without reducing the gross receipts tax on other purchases.
That is only the start. Smith and his Democrat colleagues want to add taxes to everything from cigarettes to gasoline, to personal income, while also freezing New Mexico's corporate income tax rate in place rather than continuing a scheduled phase-down to 5.9%.
The immediate concern for policymakers is New Mexico's deteriorating budget picture. Due to declining oil prices, there is “only” $35 million in “new” money. Once $85 million in new costs for half-a-year of Medicaid expansion are added to the mix, everything else in New Mexico's budget is being squeezed. Thus the calls for higher taxes.
New Mexico’s Legislature faces a plethora of duties during this year’s 30-day regular session. But a measure that should be a no-brainer, deserving of bipartisan support, permits dental therapists to practice in some rural and underserved areas of the state.
Dental therapists are trained to provide routine care, including drilling and filling cavities. Last year, a bill that would have allowed dental therapists to practice in New Mexico passed the Republican-held House, with Democratic support, only to fail in the Senate without so much as a floor vote.
However, a task force of legislators, along with supporters and opponents of dental therapists, came to a compromise late last year. The bill they’ve crafted, HB 191, isn’t perfect – the establishment of a state dental director isn’t necessary, and neither is a mandate that all children receive a dental exam as a prerequisite to school enrollment. Nonetheless, allowing dental therapists to work in our state would be a promising reform.
It is not a government mandate. It doesn’t involve taxpayer subsidies. It’s working in other states, including Minnesota and Alaska. And it’s a solid step away from the ugliness of professional protectionism through government licensing.
The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) bond measures recently passed overwhelmingly, despite a slew of scandals and payouts leading to concerns from district leaders that voters might use the bond election to punish the district. With a total of $575 million at stake, this was not a trivial concern.
An outpouring of opinion pieces and editorials from community leaders urged voters to put their concerns about the district and its management aside and support the bonds “for the children.” This was seemingly effective, as turnout was nearly double what it normally is for similar elections (still low at 7 percent, but much bigger than normal).
There is no doubt that a rejection would have gotten APS's attention. It was a blunt instrument indeed, but it would have generated a swift reaction from district leaders.
Since the blunt instrument was rejected by voters, what means do voters have of keeping APS accountable? Locally, it pretty much boils down to electing the “right” people to the school board. Since the main job of the school board is to hire a district superintendent who ultimately oversees the schools, this is another weak and indirect method of accountability.
The situation at the state level is not much better. We elect a governor and legislators based on dozens of issues (and personality traits), with their stances on education among them. The governor then hires a secretary of education who is in charge of implementing that governor's education policies. This process is yet another indirect and slow means of holding our education system accountable. What if I like Gov. Martinez's policies on taxes and the economy, but don't like what Department of Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is doing? Or, I might strongly dislike the governor, but appreciate what Skandera is doing. How do average people communicate their concerns to these people?
This is not limited to the current administration. Accountability, specifically its absence, is endemic to government educational systems.
If businesses think accountability in education is a trivial matter, they need look no further than New Mexico's worst-in-the-nation graduation rate, constant discussion of our “workforce preparedness/quality,” and the tremendous growth in education spending in recent decades.