How long do you keep spending money on something before you quit and cut your losses? New Mexico's Legislature will soon face some difficult decisions as to how much taxpayer money to spend on two high profile, Richardson-era projects, the Rail Runner and the Spaceport.
Let's start with the RailRunner. The train already costs taxpayers nearly $50 million a year in payments on the initial infrastructure and operations. That doesn't include two balloon payments of $230 million (made in addition to operations costs) which will come due next decade.
Recently, Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing appeared in Silver City on a panel on Western lands issues and federal management alongside Rep. Yvette Herrell, economist Alex Thal, and rancher Hugh B McKeen to discuss what should be done with New Mexico's federal lands (not including Native lands, military installations, and National Parks). See the footage below:
ProgressNowNM, a far-left cookie-cutter (even down to their name) organization financed by George Soros and others is attacking the Rio Grande Foundation and members of the State Policy Network. The new attack campaign focuses primarily on money and where it comes from rather than any honest discussion over the issues and their merits.
Amusingly enough, however, ProgressNow has created alleged "fact sheets" on the Rio Grande Foundation and other SPN groups. To say that there are errors and downright falsehoods in the attack on the Rio Grande Foundation would be an understatement. Let's go through them:
1) ALEC's home in NM: Yes, the Rio Grande Foundation works with a wide variety of organizations including the American Legislative Exchange Council which we have hosted for an event. I once appeared alongside (on the same side) of an issue with Pat Davis of ProgressNowNM at a panel discussion sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance of New Mexico. So what?
2) I am indeed on the board of New Mexico Connections Academy, an online charter school here in NM. Much like other schools contract with private, for-profit providers for textbooks, bus service, and technology, we contract with Connections. I am proud to play a direct role in increasing educational choice here in New Mexico!
3) My credentials in publishing in a wide variety of media outlets are strong. This accusation is just a rehashing of a blogger's rantings from a few years ago. The original has been taken down. Wall Street Journal: here, here, here, and here.
US News & World Report: here.
If you take a look at these press clips, you'll notice that I have been advocating for free markets and limited government for well over a decade since my days at the National Taxpayers Union in Washington, DC. I'm clearly in this work because I believe in free markets and limited government, not because some big $$ donors are paying us off...and you know what, I believe that the folks at ProgressNow are principled in believing that government has all the answers for society's woes.
4) Regarding our supposedly "extreme" agenda for New Mexico, again I'll take it point by point:
a) Defund and privatize New Mexico’s public schools with voucher programs and virtual schools: We support the rights of parents and children to choose the education that makes the most sense for them. Funding for education should flow through the child, not through the bureaucracy.
b) Block access to affordable healthcare for New Mexican families: We oppose the health care law known as ObamaCare and expansions of government programs like Medicaid. Rather, we support reducing government-imposed regulatory and tax barriers to health care that come between patients and their doctors.
c) Oppose environmental and pollution protections: Simply not true, but we do support cost-benefit analyses of all government regulations and weighing them against the economic benefits of industries such as oil and gas that support New Mexico's economy.
d) Destroy public pensions: This is another false statement. Rio Grande Foundation supports reforms such as "defined contribution" retirement plans that give government workers control over their own retirements (much like private-sector workers) and removes control over government pension investments from politicians who have proved repeatedly to be poor stewards of these resources.
e) Attack workers’ right to organize and bargain by pushing so-called “Right to Work” legislation: Right to Work does nothing to prevent workers from organizing. It simply makes it illegal to force a worker to join a union as a condition of employment.
f) Cut off funding and revenue for essential government services: This is so general as to be utterly meaningless. RGF has never urged the elimination or dramatic reduction of government funding for police, fire, or roads.
There has been an incredible amount of angst among the education establishment over New Mexico’s newly-enacted system of teacher evaluations. Unlike other aspects of Gov. Martinez’s education agenda including the A-F grading system, elimination of 3rd grade social promotion, and an emphasis on digital learning, these evaluations were not based on Jeb Bush’s successful reforms in Florida.
In fact, New Mexico’s educators might be surprised to know that these hated evaluations came to our state via the Obama Administration. A few years ago, the National Education Association gave $60 million to candidate Obama to re-elect him to the White House. Ironically, these angry union members funded the very source of their considerable angst.
(Albuquerque) Reports of a higher education bubble have become commonplace in recent years. And, while recent data indicate that the trend is slowing, there is a growing belief that higher education in the United States is in need of a new, more cost-effective model.
In a new policy brief which is available here, Rio Grande Foundation Senior Fellow and higher education expert Pat Leonard outlines a new, “lean model” for higher education. Notes Leonard, “Not only has the price of higher education increased rapidly in recent years, but the quality of that education has declined as well.”
The solution, argues Leonard, is to create new, four year streamlined institutions, similar in many ways to K-12 charter schools, which would compete on the basis of value-added and rigorous cost control. Traditional budget formulation in higher education tends to view the bulk of institutional costs as fixed. The Lean College’s budget formulation will regard few if any as fixed. It will provide quality baccalaureate instruction at a minimum cost.
The idea of the “Lean College” is to cut out some of the unnecessary frills like fancy buildings, professors forced to split their time between teaching and research, and the need for expensive sports teams and facilities.
The concept is meant to re-focus higher education on its core and restore the high-quality, low-cost option to American higher education.
Author and historian Amity Shlaes spoke recently in Albuquerque (and Tularosa) about our nation's 30th president, Calvin Coolidge and her biography of him. Video of Shlaes' talk is available below:
Also, if you are interested in purchasing an autographed copy of Shlaes' book on Coolidge, they can be purchased online here for the cover price of $35 which includes shipping or by phone at: 505-264-6090.
With all of the debate going on about testing and teacher evaluations, we feel that it is important to remind New Mexico's education leaders of the importance of broad-based school choice and the importance of enhanced educational options for students. Here is a recent interview Paul Gessing did on the issue of education reform:
(Albuquerque) For all of the problems facing our elected officials in Congress particularly and Washington, DC, in general, a new Rio Grande Foundation paper details how the underpinnings of our republic are being undermined by the never-ending growth of the federal bureaucracy.
In the new brief, “No Legislation without Representation,” the authors detail how Congress has abdicated its responsibilities to legislate and has instead given the tacit go-ahead to bureaucracies to enact the equivalent of legislation with minimal discussion or input on the issues from elected officials or the voting public.
As the authors note, the ObamaCare health care law may be the “poster child” for this trend, but the trend goes back to at least the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt Administration.
While some may be sanguine about the trend toward ever-greater adoption of extra-democratic regulations, there are real economic impacts inherent in allowing a nearly unlimited number of bureaucrats “legislate” out of sight rather than demanding that 535 elected officials do so in public on national cable television.
The authors note that, “In 1949 there were 19,335 pages of regulations. In 2011 there were 169,301 small-typed pages, an increase by a factor of eight over a period of 62 years.” The financial impact of these regulations is reflected in a GDP that analyses suggest could be as high as $54 trillion instead of the $16 trillion we have today. As an example, the regulations created to support ObamaCare have had a direct effect on employment. The results of a survey on ObamaCare shows 41% of surveyed businesses froze hiring because of the health care law,
19% said they have reduced employees, and 38% said they have reduced growth plans.
Perhaps worse than the economic impact is the negative impact this change has had upon openness in government. Even the most interested of American citizens, it is impossible to know what is going on with their government.
As James Madison noted in Federalist No. 62, “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be to-morrow.”
Americans are limited in their tools for addressing the problem of nameless, faceless bureaucrats legislating from various agencies, but understanding that there is a problem is a first step to getting a grasp on the problem.