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.

Tom Palmer's "Government Control v. Self Control" presentation in Albuquerque

The Rio Grande Foundation hosted Tom Palmer of the Atlas Network for a luncheon talk. Palmer was on his way back from giving a similar talk at FreedomFest in Las Vegas. Palmer travels the world assisting free market think tanks. His Albuquerque talk is below:

New Mexico County Payroll Listing 2014

(Albuquerque) In an effort to improve government transparency throughout New Mexico, the Rio Grande Foundation has requested and published payroll data for all New Mexico Counties.

Unfortunately, several counties were unable or unwilling to comply with the request. We hope that residents of those counties will put pressure on them to make information available to the public. New Mexico's largest county, Bernalillo, is a leader in providing transparency.

To find the data for your county, just click on the link below:

Bernalillo County

Catron County

Chaves County

Cibola County

Colfax County (not available)

Curry County

De Baca County (not online)

Doña Ana County

Eddy County

Grant County

Guadalupe County

Harding County

Hidalgo County

Lea County

Los Alamos

Lincoln County

Luna County

McKinley County

Mora County

Otero County

Quay County

Rio Arriba County

Roosevelt County

Sandoval County

San Juan County

San Miguel County

Santa Fe County

Sierra County

Socorro County

Taos County

Torrance County

Union County

Valencia County

 

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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