It seems like not a week goes by without yet another controversy over federal lands in the American West. New Mexico, with 42 percent federal land ownership (as seen in the map below), has been at ground-zero.
To cite just a few very recent or even ongoing situations, there was the Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada, a simmering standoff over ranchers' access to water in Otero County, and the Obama Administration's unilateral decision to place 500,000 acres of New Mexico land "off-limits" to a wide variety of human and economic uses.
You are invited to a discussion of these at once pertinent and controversial issues with Carl Graham, Director of the Coalition for Self Government in the West.
The Rio Grande Foundation and others have been grown concerned about the federal government's management of lands throughout the West. A Rio Grande Foundation study found that by transferring management of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands to the State, New Mexico could see as many as 68,000 new jobs and $8.4 billion in additional economic growth.
But the impact of poor federal land policies is not limited to economics: forest fires rage uncontrolled, ranchers, historic land grants, and recreational users have lost access to their lands, and funding provided by Washington in lieu of taxes paid on those lands (known as PILT) continues to leave local governments under-funded.
Legislation that would return or study the return of federal lands to the State of New Mexico has been introduced in the last two legislative sessions.
In addition to land management policies, Graham will be addressing what states like New Mexico can do to not be so reliant on Washington for their economic well-being. In fact, New Mexico is already learning the painful result of over reliance on Washington. But, States need to fully understand and analyze what would happen to their economies in the event of a significant loss of Washington funding. This concept, known as "Financial Readiness" will be introduced in the 2015 New Mexico legislative session and will be addressed in Graham's presentation.
At 45 just words, the First Amendment has been a bulwark in protecting unpopular speech in the United States for more than 200 years. Whether that speech involved flag burning, the KKK, or unpopular political speech, the Amendment’s clear and concise statement that “Congress shall make no law…” has been an exceptionally-American statement of principal.
The First Amendment remains a clear statement by the American Founders that “democracy” or popular rule must be restrained in our republican form of government. Popular speech needs no special protections.
The Rio Grande Foundation hosted a luncheon on May 13, 2014 with Matt Kibbe, President and CEO of the grassroots/Tea Party group FreedomWorks. Kibbe is the author of "Don't Hurt People and Don't Take Their Stuff" and he discussed the book and its message at the event.
The City of Aztec is to be applauded for posting a variety of budget and bid information online in an effort to expand transparency and openness in local government. My organization, the Rio Grande Foundation, has been a leader in actually requesting and publishing such data online in an effort to encourage citizens and activists to be more informed and more active citizens.
A few major cities, counties, and school districts around New Mexico have taken steps towards additional transparency, but Aztec is one of the smaller cities in the state to do so. Hopefully, other governing bodies in the Four Corners (and around New Mexico) including the Cities of Farmington and Bloomfield, San Juan County, and San Juan Community College (to name just a few of the big ones) will follow Aztec's example by publishing similar information.
One small area of improvement that we'd recommend for Aztec is to publish the actual pay for government workers (this is already public information) rather than the employee pay bands that are currently available. Employee names are not essential, but actual real-world numbers would be helpful.
New Mexico’s state legislature has been controlled by Democrats since 1953, but there are some reasons to think that Republicans could take it over in 2014. While the Rio Grande Foundation is a non-partisan organization willing to work with anyone who shares our ideas, even on a single issue, we have prepared a report on long-overdue reforms that a Republican-led state legislature could have an advantage in enacting. (Democrats are encouraged to read it too!) Not only are these reforms good ideas in their own right, but we believe they are also appealing to the electorate.
They’re both good policy and good politics and given the poor economic performance during the ongoing economic “recovery,” New Mexico needs some good public policy reforms.
First, there’s ballot access reform. Political competition is a good thing, and it’s hard to imagine that the benefits of increased competition stop with the second party. Current New Mexico ballot access law imposes much steeper signature collection requirements on third-party candidates than on Democrats and Republicans. At a minimum, equalizing the signature requirements would provide for a fairer and more truly representative electoral process. Ideally the Legislature could scrap the signature requirement entirely and let voters see the whole menu before making a choice. Voters will like this.
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.
(Albuquerque) In a first step for “free trade” in legal services, the New Mexico Supreme Court has adopted partial reciprocity for attorneys (also known as reciprocal bar admission). In its pure form, lawyer reciprocity enables experienced attorneys from other states to practice in New Mexico. This basic regulatory reform was discussed in a 2013 Rio Grande Foundation policy brief that dealt broadly with regulations that hold back New Mexico’s economy.
Said Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing of the Court’s decision, “We are pleased that the Court has concluded that failing to recognize the credentials of out-of-state attorneys – while providing protection to a small group of marginal, in-state attorneys – is unfair to New Mexico consumers of legal services and ultimately harms our economy.”
Gessing continued, noting that “In today’s economy, businesses can set up their headquarters wherever they choose. State requirements that attorneys be ‘barred’ once again to practice in New Mexico after having already gone through that process elsewhere, is not helpful as our elected official attempt to bring jobs and economic growth to our state.
Attorney Pat Rogers who has been leading a pro-reciprocity effort before the Court noted that, while pleased with this first step, “The Court did not adopt the less restrictive proposal favored by his group and the Rio Grande Foundation. The Court did, however remove a good portion of the existing restrictive barriers to competition in the practice of law, in NM. Consumers should be the winners.”
Concluded Gessing, “The New Mexico Supreme Court’s move towards reciprocity is a small, but necessary step forward in terms of reducing unnecessary regulations on New Mexicans.”
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” George Orwell
Recently, Gov. Martinez stated that her administration wants to stop allowing union dues to be withdrawn automatically from state employee paychecks.” The head of one government employee union called this statement a “declaration of war” against the unions.
What could generate such heated rhetoric from one of New Mexico’s most powerful special interest groups? Simply put, government employee unions benefit greatly from having their members’ dues and non-members’ “fair share” payments automatically deducted from their paychecks (“fair share” payments are funds extracted from non-union workers for the supposed purpose of funding union bargaining efforts).