You know government is too big when….

The Rio Grande Foundation offices are near the new Bernalillo County headquarters building. This is the building which was formerly filled with PNM staffers and was purchased by the County. Cost of the building quickly went up by 50% to nearly $50 million.

The big letters on top were added this week. The building is attractive, but when one of the largest buildings in your biggest city’s downtown is occupied by government it really says a lot about the size and scope of government.

Here are a few skylines of comparable-sized cities (Albuquerque has 560,000):

Milwaukee 590,000:

Milwaukee skyline | Milwaukee city, Milwaukee skyline, Milwaukee wi

Tucson 548,000:

Tucson | Visit Arizona

 

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Article uses RGF research to blow apart case for NM Spaceport

At RGF we tend to follow New Mexico media outlets pretty closely, but we had missed The Sierra County Sun. The Spaceport is based in Sierra County and no County wants manned commercial space launches than Sierra County, one of the most economically-challenged counties in our already-economically-challenged State.

Later this year (October 18 of 2021) the facility will “celebrate” its 10th anniversary, but after a decade we are STILL waiting for something resembling manned space tourism launches at the facility. Interestingly, relying heavily on Rio Grande Foundation analysis, The Sierra County Sun has one of the most trenchant and thoughtful analyses of the Spaceport that we’ve seen in the numerous media outlets that have explored the facility and its “impact.” Check it out here.

You can read the RGF analysis by Danny Seymour here.

Spaceport America - Virgin Galactic

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Is New Mexico REALLY “Following the Science” on COVID?

Recently (on February 19, 2021), Tracie Collins, M.D., New Mexico Secretary of Health was deposed in a case in US brought by various businesses that have opposed the Gov.’s lockdown policies relating to COVID 19.

The Deposition was videotaped, so we can provide broadcast news outlets (or even just YouTube and similar platforms) with clips. Here is the full transcript of Collins’ deposition.

Key Take-aways:

  1. The Department of Health does not consider the economic impact of lockdowns in crafting its Public Health Orders.
  2. The Department of Health does not adjust “positive COVID test” results to account for false positive tests.
  3. The Department of Health cannot explain why Florida and Texas, which are not locked down, have lower COVID fatality rates than New Mexico. The experiences of other states are not considered by the Secretary or the New Mexico Department of Health in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  4. The Department of Health does not take into consideration other adverse health impacts, like increased depression, suicide, and childhood obesity in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  5. The Secretary places significant reliance on the Department of Health’s legal staff when crafting the Public Health Orders. She does not know if any of the Department’s lawyers have any training or education in public health.
  6. The Secretary is unaware of any scientific studies that support the specific restrictions, prohibitions, and permitted activities under the Public Health Orders.
  7. The Secretary cannot say whether the risk from COVID must be zero, before the Public Health Orders will end.

Below are Page and Line references to deposition testimony:

Data and Experience from other States “can” be considered in crafting New Mexico’s Public Health Orders, but Secretary Collins will not say that it “should” be considered.  See, page 11, line 2 to line 14 (“11:2 – 14”)

The Department of Health has minimized economic harm from the shutdowns by reducing morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and keeping people alive so that they will have an opportunity at some time in the future to reopen their business.  See page 32, line 24 to page 34, line 5 (“32:24 – 34:5”)

The Department does not track or control for false positive tests, or make adjustments to their numbers based on the presence of false positive tests.  34:11 – 37:17; and 37:21 – 41:11

The Secretary cannot explain why Florida and South Dakota, which are not locked down, have a lower COVID-related fatality rate than New Mexico.  Nor is she interested in using such data to determine whether lockdowns work.  48:3 – 53:19

The Secretary does not know why New Mexico has not done a regression analysis to determine whether the shutdown orders have had a positive impact on COVID transmission rates.  54:2 – 56:2

The Secretary is not aware of New Mexico attempting any other analysis of the adverse economic impact of the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the State has done anything to consider the economic cost and damage caused by the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the economic costs and damages arising from the shutdown orders is significant.  57:15 – 58:22; and 100:15 – 20

The Secretary does not know what adverse health consequences have arisen as a result of having to close business and losing jobs.  The Secretary has done no study regarding the adverse health consequences caused by lockdowns (increased depression, suicide, childhood obestity, etc.).   58:23 – 63:3

The Secretary is not aware of any studies that the business activities that are permitted under the Public Health Orders are less risky than the business activities that have been prohibited.  63:4 – 64:7

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s general counsel (i.e., its lawyers) to understand why certain businesses, like TopGolf and New Mexico United are allowed to operate, and others are not.  64:8 – 66:13

The Public Health Orders do not consider the potential harm or damage to the businesses that are being closed.  The Secretary does not know who, if anyone, in State government is supposed to look at the cost and damage to the businesses and people subject to the Public Health Orders.  67:10 – 69:1

The fatality rate from COVID for children ages 5 to 14 is 0.001%, or 1 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  For children age 19 and under, the fatality rate is 0.003% or 3 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  This is lower than the fatality rates for other infectious diseases.  69:4 – 70:4.

New Mexico has not studied the effect of the pandemic on childhood obesity.  72:20 – 74:13

The Secretary is unaware of any studies by the Department of Health of the impact of play deprivation on children resulting from the lockdowns and public health orders.  80:11 – 82:4

The Secretary cannot say whether the Public Health Orders will continue until the risk of COVID is zero.  82:5 – 83:5

In general, other factors such as adverse health consequences to children and adults and adverse economic impacts on businesses and employees are not taken into consideration by the Department or the Secretary when it comes to the contents of the Public Health Orders.  84:5 – 85:8.

Decisions about which businesses are in what category in the Public Health Orders is determined by the legal department working with the Secretary.  The Secretary does not know if there is a “written trail” for the decision as to which type of businesses will go in which category; nor does she know if any of the lawyers in her department have any education in public health.  89:1 – 18

The Secretary is unaware of any analysis or studies that were performed before gyms, group fitness classes, skating rinks, bowling alleys, and personal trainers were taken off the “prohibited from opening list” in the Public Health Order, to the permitted to open under limited capacity list.  93:23 – 94:14

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers before she could say how an industry or particular business activity can have its category or definition changed and be allowed to open.  94:15 – 95:7.

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers to understand why some business that cannot practice social distancing, like massage parlors, barbershops and nail salons are open, while other businesses, like trampoline parks and other “close-contact recreational facilities” where the Department is concerned about social distancing, are closed.  100:21 -101:23.

Coronavirus variants and mutations: The science explained - BBC News

 

 

 

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RGF requests and publishes public payrolls: Part 1: New Mexico Cities

New Mexico cities big and small are required to provide various public records. Unfortunately the process of requesting many of those records is onerous. That’s where the Rio Grande Foundation comes in.

We have requested, received, and published public payroll records for most of New Mexico’s major cities. You can find that information here.

To their credit, a few (typically larger) cities publish their payroll records online. You can find Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, and Santa Fe.

Database: Lehigh Valley, Warren County public employee salaries -  lehighvalleylive.com

 

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Democrats walk fine line on energy

The following appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on April 18, Santa Fe New Mexican, and other New Mexico media outlets.

If there were an overall theme for New Mexico’s current political situation it would be the ongoing attempts by Democrats to placate their environmentalist base which opposes traditional energy sources while at the same time keeping energy dollars flowing into the State’s coffers.

The Biden Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas permitting is the most notable example of this conflict. Gov. Lujan Grisham has publicly spoken out about it, but Attorney General Balderas has refused to join a lawsuit challenging the policy that was recently filed by a dozen states. None of those states have as much to lose as does New Mexico, but our elected leaders are unlikely to challenge a President of their own party.

The internal conflict was on full display in the recently-completed legislative session as well. Thankfully, the most radical bill on energy which would have banned “fracking,” (an oil and gas drilling process without which New Mexico’s oil and gas industry would be immediately decimated) failed without gaining traction.

Making it much further in the process only to fail unexpectedly was Sen. Mimi Stewart’s “clean fuel standard” SB 11. In 2019 Gov. Lujan Grisham made national headlines stating that New Mexico was going to increase vehicle mileage in New Mexico to 52 MPG by model year 2022.

SB 11 would have instead forced motorists to use “alternative” fuels with the goal of reducing carbon emissions while passing off the hard work of actually developing the technology onto the private sector. Presumably blame for higher fuel costs would have been shifted as well. The bill faltered after passing the Senate.

Anti-energy bills that did make their way into law included SB 8 which allows local governments  to enact more restrictive air quality regulations than are imposed by the federal government. It is unlikely that conservative counties where much of the Industry is located (and people are far more supportive of the Industry than liberal Albuquerque or Santa Fe) will enact such regulations, but this is about politics, not policy.

Speaking of politics, SB 112 which also made its way into law creates a “sustainable economy task force.” The task force’s stated goal is “diversifying New Mexico’s economy while reducing reliance on traditional energy sources.” Of course, New Mexico Democrats have controlled the Legislature for decades and with total Democrat control under Lujan Grisham, they have had ample time to enact the public policies necessary to “diversify” New Mexico’s economy.

Unfortunately, Santa Fe has repeatedly failed to reform the gross receipts tax, eliminate Social Security taxes, reduce onerous regulations, and expand educational choice (to improve workforce preparedness). In recent legislative sessions we’ve instead seen tax hikes passed at times of big budget surpluses. During both the 2019 (HB 6) and 2021 (SB 317) sessions tax hikes were adopted. Such cash grabs do nothing to diversify New Mexico’s economy. At best they diversify government revenues. In addition to tax hikes, policies like minimum wage hikes, paid sick leave mandates, and ongoing COVID restrictions imposed by the Executive only hinder economic growth and diversification.

Finally, this session, while the Legislature continued its piecemeal attacks on energy, after a decade of attempts they passed an amendment to increase distributions from the Land Grand Permanent Fund (the fund is generated by oil and gas). HJR 1 not only increased distributions by 1% but added an additional .25% to that amount for a total increase of 1.25%.

Continued existence of the fund happens only if the oil and gas industry thrives, so Democrats’ plan to take more money out while less money is put in seem problematic at best.

Rather than killing off energy first, New Mexico’s elected leaders should focus on diversifying the economy. When we are no longer among the very poorest states in the nation the Legislature can address ways to make the New Mexico less dependent on oil and gas.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

EnergyConsumtionbySource and Sector 2011

 

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Homemade food freedom a bipartisan 2021 “win” for Rio Grande Foundation

The Rio Grande Foundation and our friends at the Institute for Justice along with what ended up being a bipartisan win for “food freedom” in New Mexico. The issue is discussed at length in an Albuquerque Journal opinion piece authored by a bipartisan group of legislators after the Gov. signed the bill.

RGF sent various alerts throughout the session as well as asking supporters to send notes to the Gov. asking her to sign the bill.

As the op-ed writers note:

Although 49 states allow the sale of foods made in a home kitchen, New Mexico has had one of the strictest laws in the country. It is illegal to even sell homemade cookies to your neighbor. Instead, home bakers can sell only at farmers’ markets. And before a home baker can sell her cookies at the market, she needs to get a permit from the state that requires a stack of paperwork and can require thousands of dollars in kitchen upgrades. Making matters worse, Albuquerque bans the sale of homemade foods completely – one of the only cities in the nation to do so.

A New Mexico Biscochito Recipe - Jessica Lynn Writes

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Tipping Point NM episode 292: Grover Norquist – Americans for Tax Reform – Federal Government Policy

On this week’s episode, Paul interviews Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. There has been a lot of bad policy coming out of Washington, DC, during the first few months of the Biden Administration. Whether it is the $2 trillion “stimulus” or another $2 trillion “infrastructure” bill or attacks on free speech and Right to Work, the amount of transformationally bad public policy moving in Washington is almost too much to keep up with.

Thankfully Grover spends his days and even nights working on these issues. If you want to know what is happening in the federal government you don’t want to miss this conversation.

NOTE: we are posting episodes of Tipping Point NM here as well as on our YouTube channel. You can find the archives here and audio-only articles here.

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NM has high unemployment rate yet business can’t find workers: what gives?

As of February 2021 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics New Mexico has the 5th-highest unemployment rate in the nation. You can see a partial list below. New Mexico which remains among the most locked down states in the nation (especially its population areas) has had an elevated unemployment rate for much of the COVID crisis.

But, with the federal government’s generous (debt-fueled) “stimulus” plans  making it lucrative for people to not work, it is clear that many New Mexicans would rather stay home and cash checks than work for a living. Here are a few recent news stories showing how challenging it is for businesses to find people here and here.

Simply put, as businesses try to reopen and get back to something akin to normal, bad policies out of Washington, most notably the recent $2 trillion “Biden-bucks” scheme will make it more difficult for the economy to reopen.

Patrick Hayes on Twitter: "Sonic in Albuquerque says “No one wants to work anymore.”… "

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A closer look at Scott Elder’s new contract w/ Albuquerque Public Schools

The Albuquerque Journal did a write-up on newly-minted Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Scott Elder’s contract, but we wanted to take a closer look at the document.

If you’re inclined, you can read the 7 page document here. It took a bit of sleuthing to find it on the APS website.

As reported Elder will make $225.000 annually with 22 paid leave days, use of a car, and a $500 monthly “allowance” for expenses. All of that is rather routine.

According to the agreement Elder will ALSO receive contributions from APS to a supplemental retirement plan of $50,000 at the end of the 2021-2022 contract year, $55,000 at the end of the 2022-2023 contract year and $60,000 at the end of the 2023-2024 contract year. The kicker is that Elder who has worked for APS since 1991 is ALSO eligible for benefits under the Education Retirement Board (ERB) pension system available to all education employees in the State. So, Elder will truly be living large in retirement and his REAL compensation dwarfs the $225,000 in take home pay.

Furthermore, according to clause 18 of the contract is a provision that sets up mandatory binding arbitration between the District and Elder in case of a dispute. The fees and charges of the arbitration will be paid by the Board.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, there are absolutely NO performance incentives for Elder contained in his contract. So, no matter how far enrollment plummets (it has been and the situation shows no sign of abating) and regardless of how well or poorly APS students perform, Elder’s pay will not be affected.

With the District facing so many challenges we wish Elder luck, but fear that not much is going to change at APS until the school board itself changes.

Superintendent's News — Albuquerque Public Schools

 

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We were right early on COVID surface cleaning

A year ago New Mexicans and many folks around the country were concerned about contracting COVID 19 via surface transmission. This led Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (and other politicians state/nation wide to close down city parks and take other actions that the Centers for Disease Control now says were/are unnecessary.

As the New York Times reports:

But the era of “hygiene theater” may have come to an unofficial end this week, when the C.D.C. updated its surface cleaning guidelines and noted that the risk of contracting the virus from touching a contaminated surface was less than 1 in 10,000.

The following is a screen shot of the RGF president’s Twitter response to Keller’s closing of the playgrounds. The deleted tweets were from a New Mexico-based union official that RGF often spars with in Santa Fe.  The gist of the interaction was Gessing saying that he was going to take his kids to the playgrounds anyway (as he did) and the union official telling Gessing he was a “bad parent.”

A clear cut case of “we were right, they were wrong.”

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