New Mexico Should Not Cut Programming At Corrections Facilities

The following piece by Patrick Brenner of the Rio Grande Foundation appeared in the Los Alamos Reporter on September 11, 2020:

As the country begins to re-open and we assess what the future will look like post-pandemic, states will have to take a hard look at where to allocate funds knowing there will undoubtedly be budget concerns for the foreseeable future. While budget cuts are imminent, and in New Mexico they are needed, that does not mean indiscriminately eliminating programs or services that provide real benefit to New Mexico residents who need them most, especially when they ultimately save taxpayers money in the long run.

Before everything shut down, I toured the New Mexico Men’s and Women’s Recovery Academies near Albuquerque where I met with both the residents and the staff who run both of these facilities. Not only did the residents and staff provide glowing reviews of the programming and facilities, but also the Department of Corrections official who toured with us said that she fights for this type of programming across New Mexico and spoke about how effective it has been. These types of programs are on the chopping block. But it is these same programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration and are incredibly effective in treatment, saving taxpayer money, and better outcomes for participants of these programs.

The New Mexico Men’s and Women’s Recovery Academies are both managed by the GEO Group, a private contractor that manages detention and corrections facilities. While often vilified in the media, this private contractor has spent $10 million last year alone on programming around substance abuse counseling and cognitive behavioral treatment. Rehabilitation programming like this provides care, compassion, and effective tools to help people and reduce recidivism rates.

When you visit, the most surprising element is the sense of community and pride that has been fostered among the residents and staff where the more tenured members act as mentors for the newer residents and they truly pull for one another through this tough transition. The graduates of this program see this as a new opportunity for their lives and they are less likely to fall back into their old ways. Funding these types of programs will not only help residents overcome their addiction and other issues, but they will also help New Mexico’s bottom line.

This programming in New Mexico is new. But inmates who participated in this same programming in facilities in Florida had a recidivism rate 30 percent lower than their peers that did not have the same programing. Assuming this trend holds and recidivism is reduced by one third of the average in Florida after participation in these programs, this could be a major cost saving measure for the state. In 2019 alone, this would roughly provide $8 million in cost avoidance for Florida because they will no longer have to house these reformed inmates. There is every reason to believe the Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs will see the same drop as Florida experienced and New Mexico could have the same experience with “cost avoidance”.

Corrections funding was already reduced during the recently-completed special session. When cutbacks occur in the 2021 session, programs like these should be among those preserved. The expertise of private sector providers can provide such services at a high quality and reasonable price, but the ultimate benefit is to the State and taxpayers of New Mexico who are desperately searching for ways to reduce crime and recidivism in their communities.

There is no “silver bullet” to solving crime. The COVID 19 epidemic will have unpredictable consequences for our society as well as crime rates and the criminal justice system at large for years to come. Even in times of tight budgets, New Mexico needs to continue investing programming, especially the kind that can be provided by private providers at a reasonable cost in our prisons and treatment facilities to ensure that we support inmates and residents. Short-sighted decisions now may have a negative impact on New Mexico for years to come.

Patrick Brenner is a policy analyst with the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market think tank. 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.

New Mexico Women's Recovery Academy (NMWRA) - GEO - 2nd Chance Jobs -  Albuquerque, NM

Crony Capitalism Is Alive and Well During COVID-19

The following appeared on CNSNews.com on August 24, 2020.

Then-Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, holds the gavel during the opening session of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 3, 2019. (Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Congress is in recess until after Labor Day. As a result, people across the nation are furious with their elected representatives for leaving Washington without passing another COVID-19 economic relief package.

The implications for extra unemployment insurance that keeps people out of the workforce and stimulus checks that increase our national debt notwithstanding, there’s another silver lining: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s crony capitalist giveaway to health insurance giants is at least a few weeks closer to the ashbin of history.

Democrats in the U.S. House passed a bill that would fund COBRA premiums for nine months. This program allows recently unemployed people to keep their insurance plan if they pay the full premium. Pelosi’s plan would use federal funds to cover these premiums via direct payment to the insurance companies, which would have cost taxpayers $157 billion in the first four months and almost $500 billion by the end of the year.

No one wants Americans to lose health insurance, but this COBRA bailout was so expensive that even socialist Bernie Sanders was against it and the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care panned it as a “bailout for corporations.”

Keep in mind, Pelosi and House Democrats planned this massive transfer of wealth from the U.S. Treasury to health insurance companies at the same time they are making money hand over fist. This is because insurance companies are continuing to collect premiums while millions of Americans are putting off going to the doctor due to COVID-19, resulting in far fewer claims to pay on their customers’ behalf.

As a result of this imbalance, the nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealth Group (UHG), posted its highest ever profit of more than $6.6 billion in the second quarter of the year. Profits are typically nothing to be ashamed of, but a megacorporation certainly doesn’t need a bailout during the most gainful time period in its history.

Why would Nancy Pelosi pursue a ham-handed giveaway of taxpayer dollars to a company worth $300 billion having the most profitable quarter of its existence?

The answer might be the AARP, an organization that “has become little more than a marketing scam for its big corporate financial sponsors — UnitedHealth and its wholly-owned OptumRx pharmacy business,” according to American Commitment President Phil Kerpen.

The organization recently released a report entitled “How AARP Puts Profits over Patients—And Principles,” that lays out the “the unholy alliance between AARP and UnitedHealth Group” in devastating detail.

Although AARP is a non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(4), it earned a profit of $246.5 million in 2018 on a total of nearly $1.65 billion in gross revenue, a margin of nearly 15 percent. Not bad for a “non-profit” organization! Only 18 percent of AARP’s revenue in 2018 came from dues paid by members, while 57 percent came from selling AARP-branded goods and services to those members in the form of “royalty fees.” Between 2007 and 2018, the total royalties paid to AARP totaled a little over $9 billion, with $5.3 billion coming exclusively from UnitedHealth group.

AARP does not disclose how much money it receives from each of the plans it hawks for UnitedHealth Group, but it is required to include fine print on its Medigap plans that it receives a “royalty” of 4.95 percent for each plan sold. American Commitment’s report estimates this to be $350-400 million per year.

UnitedHealth Group certainly makes a tidy profit from the plans sold to AARP members, but it also gets something else for the cash: a bought-and-paid for lobbying group posing as a senior citizens organization. This could explain the sometimes-puzzling positions the AARP takes.

The Obamacare fight is a crystal-clear example of the organization fighting for its and UHG’s profits at the expense of seniors. In the runup to its passage, the bill was deeply unpopular with seniors.

A poll at the time showed strong opponents outnumbered strong supporters of Obamacare by more than two-to-one, with a total of 59 percent of seniors in opposition. Even more, a House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation uncovered an email from AARP lobbyists to the Obama White House that said, “We really need to talk. Our calls against [Obamacare] are coming in 14 to one.” Yet AARP went on to support the bill.

The American Commitment report explains how AARP looked out for its own financial interests during the legislative fight and how it ultimately hurt seniors:

“At the time of Obamacare’s passage, AARP claimed that it wanted to end ‘discrimination’ against individuals with pre-existing conditions. But what did AARP do to ensure that that policy applied to its lucrative Medigap insurance plans? Precious little. Press reports indicate that the seniors’ organization compelled then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to close the ‘doughnut hole’ in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit before it would endorse the final version of the legislation.

By contrast, AARP imposed no such requirement on Democrats to ensure that Obamacare’s insurance provisions regarding pre-existing conditions applied to the Medigap insurance AARP sells. In fact, it stood idly by while Democrats stripped language applying pre-existing condition provisions to Medigap from the final version of the bill.”

Because of AARP’s inaction, “individuals with disabilities still cannot obtain access to coverage because of their pre-existing conditions.” AARP’s lucrative partnership and UHG’s profit margin were on the receiving end of other Obamacare carveouts: the tax on health insurance companies exempted Medigap policies, lower medical loss ratio standards for Medigap, and exempting Medigap insurance from the rate review process altogether.

Some ten years later, AARP is still pushing for Nancy Pelosi’s preferred policies that will pad UnitedHealth Group’s profit margin so they can continue to cash royalty checks and hurt seniors. Take H.R. 3, which will impose price controls on prescription drugs (if drug makers don’t accept it, they will face a 95 percent excise tax).

Americans for Tax Reform summarized the bill thusly:

“The Pelosi plan is not a good faith effort to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. It will end innovation in the U.S. and prevent the development of the next generation of life-saving and life-preserving medicines.

At present, the U.S. is the world leader in medical innovation with almost 60 percent of drugs being developed in the country.

This innovation benefits the U.S. in the form of high-paying jobs, a stronger economy R&D, and access to more life-saving medicines.”

While supporting these price controls that will slow cures for diseases, AARP also opposed a Trump plan to offer rebates directly to consumers instead of pharmacy benefit managers such as OptumRX, which is wholly owned by – you guessed it – UnitedHealth Group.

This triangle of crony capitalism between members of Congress, UnitedHealth Group, and AARP (which, as a non-profit, should be advocating for seniors, not its own revenues) is a perfect encapsulation of “the Swamp” that Americans loathe so much.

While Nancy Pelosi’s plan to transfer your tax dollars to the nation’s largest insurance company may be dead (for now), we need to stay vigilant to ensure it doesn’t return.

Patrick Brenner is a policy analyst for the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market think tank.

Rio Grande Foundation Files Public Records Lawsuit Against City of Albuquerque

(Albuquerque, NM) – The voters of Albuquerque voted against Democracy Dollars in November of 2019, and the Rio Grande Foundation played a pivotal part in the defeat of the ballot measure. Furthermore, the Rio Grande Foundation won an ethics complaint against the Mayor for his use of the City’s website (CABQ.gov) in which he specifically called for voters to approve Democracy Dollars and other bond measures.

Almost six months later, the Foundation has filed suit over a lack of transparency and openness associated with Mayor Tim Keller’s decision to violate the law.

Specifically, the Rio Grande Foundation requested a reasonable collection of text messages and emails sent to and from specific City employees leading up to the posting of Mayor Keller’s pleas on the City’s website to vote “YES”.

According to the Rio Grande Foundation, the public records request was filed under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records law and accepted by the City in December of 2019. After dutifully paying the invoice to receive the first portion of these records, the City of Albuquerque has failed to produce any records in response to the request from over five months ago.

Patrick Brenner, a Policy Analyst with the Foundation, filed the original request. Mr. Brenner has left no less than six voicemails and has sent dozens of emails and messages through the City’s open government portal imploring the City to fulfil its duty to provide public records.

On May 12, 2020, after exhausting all other avenues to obtain these public records, which includes receiving assistance from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government when Director Melanie Majors sent a letter of complaint to no avail, the Rio Grande Foundation filed a legal complaint in District Court against the City.

In the lawsuit the Foundation alleges that Ethan Watson, City Clerk, and the Custodian of Records, Yvette Gurule, are creating artificial delays in order to delay production of these public records. Early in the process, the Foundation emphatically requested confirmation from Mr. Watson and Ms. Gurule that these documents were not being destroyed. To date, no such confirmation has been received.

The Foundation recognizes that the ongoing response to the Coronavirus pandemic may have caused delays later in the request process. However, the Coronavirus does not excuse any governmental body from its obligation to timely respond and provide public records requested in accordance with the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.

Click here to see a copy of the lawsuit that was filed.

Here are the candidates that have not signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge

Taxpayer Protection Pledge Non-Signers

Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signers

The leftist groups and politicians that control New Mexico want to raise your taxes to deal with the Virus and shutdown economic disaster. The Tweet below from Rep. Moe Maestas (with a follow-up from the lobbyist for NM Voices for Children), reflects the party line on the left. They don’t say “raise taxes,” rather they put nearly every major facet of government off limits and they refuse to even consider that some government programs or spending in their “sacred” areas might be ineffective.

The tax hike situation is a real threat as New Mexico’s economic recovery begins. These are the same people who brought you a tax increase (HB 6 in 2019) when the State had a surplus of over $1 billion. Now that the surplus has evaporated due both to the Virus-induced economic shutdown imposed by Gov. Lujan Grisham and the massive drop in oil prices, we have a major budget deficit.

At the Rio Grande Foundation we are attempting to get legislators across our state to sign our pledge NOT to raise taxes (the overall burden) through at least the end of the 2021 Session which will end in March of next year.

Despite our best efforts it has quite frankly been a challenge to get legislators to sign the pledge. I’m not just talking about Democrats, but many Republicans have been unwilling to sign.

Just to be clear, I don’t believe many of these legislators will vote to raise taxes, but many (including Republicans) have voted to raise taxes in the past. We don’t want them to do it again.

Below is the list of legislators who have NOT signed the Rio Grande Foundation’s taxpayer pledge along with their emails and phone numbers if available. If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can find out by clicking here.

Please take a moment and send your representative and senator a note (or give them a call) and ask them politely to sign the Rio Grande Foundation pledge NOT to raise taxes as a result of the Virus-induced shutdown. They (and you) can find the pledge at: www.riograndefoundation.org/pledge.

If your legislator IS NOT listed it means they HAVE signed the pledge. Please feel free to thank them for standing against higher taxes.

The State of Open Government Amidst the Crisis

Whether it’s projected tax revenues or emails from constituents to County Commissioners, the Rio Grande Foundation is passionate about open government and regularly files public records requests. New Mexico has solid sunshine laws on the books and good case law to support our right to know: “Recognizing that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, the intent of the […] Inspection of Public Records Act is to ensure […] that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government.”

The Coronavirus Pandemic has us all acclimating to abnormal working conditions and different environments. That includes both public records custodians and the team here at the Foundation. However, the state of open government and transparency in government is troubling. Normally, public records requests are responded to in a lethargic fashion regardless of the public body the records are sought from. 

This pandemic has added remarkable delays to already delayed requests, directly impacting our ability to seek and obtain public records related to our work here at the Foundation. Public officers and employees of our government have either forgotten the importance of our sunshine or are using the Virus to circumvent transparency. 

The Rio Grande Foundation has numerous open public records requests, to put it mildly:

  • City of Albuquerque, a request filed in December 2019, requesting emails and text messages of some City employees. Zero responsive records have been received so far. This request has been fraught with unnecessary delays, and then in April 2020, they asked for additional time suddenly able to cite the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
  • County of Bernalillo, a request filed in June 2019, requesting constituent responses regarding the Paid Time Off ordinance being considered at that time. Some responsive records were finally received in February 2020, but have been improperly redacted.
  • New Mexico Department of Taxation and Revenue, filed in May 2020, requesting Gross Receipts Tax revenues and oil and gas tax revenues for 2019 and 2020-to-date. No response even acknowledging the request has been received.
  • New Department of Health, a request filed in April 2020, requesting “statistical model equations and supporting model assumptions referenced by Dr. Scrase at the governor’s April 22nd press conference to present projections of future COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in New Mexico”. The Human Services Department was not the custodian of these records and forwarded the request to the Department of Health, which promptly marked the request as “unnecessarily broad and burdensome” citing the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and has not responded with any responsive documents.

The Foundation can’t even obtain the Gross Receipts Tax revenue figures without jumping over bureaucratic red tape. Simple requests for public records are being met with “extensions” because our requests for emails are “unnecessarily broad and burdensome”. This ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is a real and serious public health and economic crisis, which is now creating a transparency crisis, enabling our government to cite the health crisis as the reason for not providing properly requested emails and text messages.

If a government employee is working from home, why does the Coronavirus give them an excuse to not provide public records? What is the actual cause for the delay? I am frustrated, and it seems that the only path forward in obtaining public records is litigation. Is this the “new normal”? 

Tipping Point New Mexico makes “Top Podcasts of 2020” list

Feedspot.com names Tipping Point New Mexico one of the “Top 20 Public Policy Podcasts You Must Follow in 2020”

Tipping Point New Mexico is the official podcast of the Rio Grande Foundation that addresses public policy issues facing New Mexico, hosted by Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation, and Wally Drangmeister.

Launched in 2018, the podcast features two episodes weekly and is nearing its 200th episode (we’re at 188 now). With special guests and topics ranging from the Railrunner to real estate and from optometry to printing, we do more on the podcast than just talk politics.

Some of our recent guests include Ken Starr (former independent counsel during the Whitewater controversy of the Clinton Administration), Grover Norquist (tax reduction advocate and President of Americans for Tax Reform), and John Boyd (New Jersey-based corporate site selector).

Feedspot.com has recently listed the Rio Grande Foundation’s public policy podcast on their list of the top 20 public policy podcasts to follow in 2020. Whoop!

Check out our latest episodes at tippingpointnm.com and join us live on Monday afternoon as we stream Tipping Point New Mexico: LIVE! on Facebook.

Rio Grande Foundation offers partnership with Governor Lujan Grisham to combat Coronavirus aftermath

*FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE*

April 2, 2020

Governor Lujan Grisham,

New Mexico faces an unprecedented crisis on multiple fronts. With the rapid spread of the outbreak, the state-wide call for social distancing is proper. These life-saving measures are necessary and we appreciate your leadership. We value life and must work diligently to preserve it. However, these mitigation efforts will undoubtedly result in an economic crisis. Combining that with the collapse in crude oil prices which fund 40% of New Mexico’s economy and our State faces unprecedented economic and budget challenges for the foreseeable future.

One thing is definite: New Mexico remains united in defeating coronavirus. I have never witnessed a coming together of the entirety of the state in the way that I’ve seen in the last three weeks. But some of our greatest challenges lie ahead.

We must also unite in defeating the economic scourge that will plague us long after the coronavirus threat has been eliminated. We want you to know that the entire team at Rio Grande Foundation stands ready and willing to help our state on the road to recovery.

At the Rio Grande Foundation, our economic policy experts have the experience to help New Mexico overcome this challenge and emerge stronger than ever before. We are capable, we are ready, and we are willing. Already we have made some detailed suggestions at our blog site: www.errorsofenchantment.com. Consider sending your team there for details but you and your staff can also reach us directly at 505-264-6090.

Please, let us help develop solutions now so that we are prepared to act as soon as we are free to do so. We are together, New Mexico.

Sincerely,

Paul Gessing
President

Launching the 1912 Society

Our country is facing an unprecedented crisis. We are fighting an invisible enemy that has challenged us deeply, but has also brought out the best in people as we come together in community. Indeed, the best of America has been showcased over the last several weeks as we fight through this.

The Territory of New Mexico was first organized as an incorporated territory of the United States that existed from 1850 until 1912, when the remaining extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of New Mexico, making it the longest-lived organized incorporated territory of the United States, lasting approximately 62 years.

For over 108 years now, New Mexico has been a part of the American community, united by the common values we share. On January 6th in 1912, New Mexico was admitted to the union of the United States as the 47th state, setting it on a historic path.

In so doing, we recognized our belief in a fundamental set of principles founded on liberty, freedom, and personal responsibility. We joined a society governed by the Constitution, a document that empowered the people instead of a king and wrote into law an unprecedented form of republican governance.

We are proud to announce the creation of the 1912 Society, an association aimed at honoring the time-tested principles that we share, which we can trace back to the date when New Mexicans became Americans. This membership society is brought together to honor and connect those donors who support the work of the Rio Grande Foundation at a certain annual level.

Through this exclusive giving club, members will get special updates from the president, an auto decal to showcase their membership, and advanced notice and reserved seating for events.

Click here to join the new 1912 Society

Thank you to the many individuals who have continued to give their generous support to our organization. It is only through your investment that we’re able to continue our work and in so doing fight for liberty, opportunity, and prosperity in the Land of Enchantment through public policy advocacy, thought leadership, and litigation.

Rio Grande Foundation sues City of Albuquerque for Open Meetings Act Violations

(Albuquerque, NM) – On Friday, March 13, 2020, the City Council of the City of Albuquerque announced that it would be holding a closed meeting the following Monday, March 16, 2020. At that meeting which occurred this past Monday, the Council amended its Emergency Powers Ordinance which has been on the books for several decades.

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The Emergency Powers Ordinance contains numerous controversial provisions which, under New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act, residents of Albuquerque have a right to participate in with their members of the City Council.

The language of the Open Meetings Act is very simple. It states in part that, “…all meetings of any committee or policy-making body of the legislature held for the purpose of discussing public business or for the purpose of taking any action within the authority of or the delegated authority of the committee or body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times.”

The Rio Grande Foundation asserts in the lawsuit which has been filed in New Mexico district court that the City has violated the New Mexico Open Meetings Act by holding a City Council meeting March 16, 2020 without proper notice and without conducting such according to the provisions of the Open Meetings Act therein violating the Due Process owing to the citizens of Albuquerque.

Furthermore, the decades-old Emergency Powers Ordinance to which several amendments were made is itself unconstitutional. The Ordinance gave the Mayor power to restrict sales of firearms and ammunition. These provisions which were not amended on Monday violate New Mexico’s Constitution, which states:

“No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”

Said Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing, “The Rio Grande Foundation understands that we are in a crisis situation right now, but laws like the Open Meetings Act and our State and Federal protections on the right to self defense were intended for crises.”

The Foundation’s lawsuit states that both the Open Meetings Act and the long-existing firearms restrictions violate New Mexico Law and should be considered void.

Click Here to View the Complaint as Filed