Keller using shiny stadium to distract from rampant crime

This article first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on August 10th, 2021.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has decided that, despite rampant crime and a homeless problem that has grown dramatically worse on his watch, building a new soccer stadium for New Mexico United should be a top city priority. The stadium itself, to be located somewhere in the vicinity of Downtown, will cost taxpayers in excess of $70 million. That doesn’t include land acquisition, parking or inevitable cost overruns.

If the City Council approves the deal, Albuquerque voters will vote on whether to finance the project this November. It is difficult to see how financing a new soccer stadium is anywhere near the top of the city’s agenda. Albuquerque is a city with serious problems.

Recently the Journal reported on rampant crime along East Central. Of course, crime and homelessness are rampant along Central, Downtown and in many parts of our city. It would be far easier to name the few places in Albuquerque where there is not a significant crime and homeless problem than to name all the places that have issues.

In a recent report WalletHub identifies the city of Albuquerque as having the fourth-highest increase in homicides per capita in the nation (2020 vs 2021). Combined with Albuquerque’s already high crime levels before the pandemic, public safety would top most lists for local needs.

Notably, the Albuquerque Police Department budget has not changed substantially in recent years. By no means am I suggesting more dollars always result in better outcomes, but the perceived lack of prioritization on public safety implicates Mayor Keller’s belief that crime is not as important as building a stadium. Or, perhaps, as he heads into his reelection campaign, he is trying to change the subject from crime to stadium.

And then there is the Downtown location. State and local governments have spent decades trying to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque with little success. With safety and homeless problems only getting worse and Downtown businesses still not recovered from the one-two punches of COVID-19 lockdowns and protests, this is a particularly risky time to invest taxpayer dollars in a Downtown stadium.

On the other hand, New Mexicans, not just locals, have flocked to The Pit, Isotopes Park and UNM Stadium for decades. These facilities are all located in the same area of town, have abundant parking shared among the various facilities and little in the way of crime or homeless issues. United does extremely well in attendance at Isotopes Park, allowing the team to vault to the top of attendance rankings in the USL.

It seems Keller is a believer in “Mad Men’s” Don Draper school of thought: If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. He has failed in the basic government task of public safety and keeping the city clean, so now he’s distracting voters with a shiny new stadium.

In the end, economists across the political spectrum agree that taxpayer-funded stadiums are economic-losers.

To that end, the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s May 2017 report “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums” concluded, “Rather than subsidizing sports stadiums, governments could finance other projects such as infrastructure or education that have the potential to increase productivity and promote economic growth.”

I urge the City Council and ultimately the voters to heed their advice.

Rio Grande Foundation is New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, the author leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.

An Interest Rate Cap Will DEFINITELY Hurt Small Borrowers

Today, the Senate Banking Committee, led by Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), is hosting a hearing titled, “Protecting Americans from Debt Traps by Extending the Military’s 36% Interest Rate Cap to Everyone.”

Absolutely: ensuring affordable access to credit for lower-income families and workers is a noble and worthwhile goal. That goal is not achieved with legislative proposals such as the imposition of a 36 percent interest rate cap. Lower-income individuals rely on safe and affordable small-dollar lending offered by financial institutions to cover unexpected expenses. An artificial interest rate cap restricts incentives for financial institutions to provide such small dollar lending services to subprime borrowers. Without incentives, the institutions offering these products will simply stop offering them. Without access to these vital products, borrowers might find themselves with few, if any, options.

It should also be noted that top-down interest rate advocates fail to justify their proposals by merely citing the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of a loan. Context is critical to understanding the purpose of small-dollar high-interest loans.To suggest that small-dollar loans from reputable financial institutions are excessively expensive by pointing to their APR fails to recognize the reality of how such products are utilized. These small loans are designed to cover emergency expenditures and are often paid back by borrowers within a short period of time. To justify rate caps by discussing such a loan’s cost in terms of a year is, as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, “like saying that a $100 a night hotel room costs $36,500 a year, when virtually nobody rents a hotel room for a year.”

By considering this option, Congress is taking the role of “mother knows best”. They are effectively removing the decision making ability of borrowers. It’s easy to sit in your house with electricity and heat with a functioning car to take you to your place of work in the morning and pass judgement on people of lesser means who have been shut out by mainstream lenders. Given the events of the past year and the negative impact lockdowns have had, especially on low-wage workers, it would seem that the Legislature should have higher priorities than eliminating needed financial options for working people.

One-size-fits all interest rate caps will cut off access to credit and eliminate choices in lending products. We urge Congress to refrain from further restricting the ability of borrowers from accessing credit of their choosing when emergencies arise and pushing them to worse outcomes.

Senator Ben Ray Luján(202) 224-6621(575) 526-5475
Senator Martin Heinrich(202) 224-5521(505) 346-6601
Instant Loans: How to Get Instant Approval & Funding

An Interest Rate Cap Will Hurt Small Borrowers

Tomorrow, the Senate Banking Committee, led by Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), is hosting a hearing titled, “Protecting Americans from Debt Traps by Extending the Military’s 36% Interest Rate Cap to Everyone.”

Politicians often claim to be helping “the poor” with the policies they enact. But people with the resources to take extended time away from their work and spend months in committee hearings are inherently not “representative” of the people of New Mexico. They need to be reminded that most people live “paycheck to paycheck” and struggle to manage an expense from time to time.

If Congress and President Biden approve of extending the Military Lending Act’s (MLA) 36% rate cap for all consumers, not just military veterans, this would devastate the financially vulnerable by reducing their access to credit. It could very well push our most disadvantaged citizens to underground financial products in an unregulated, shadow economy.

“Proponents believe a cap on fees and interest would help consumers, especially subprime borrowers with less-than-perfect credit histories, by limiting what they pay on payday loans and other less-regulated short-term credit,” Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and other coalition members wrote in a letter to the Committee last week. “In reality, its impact would extend far beyond payday lenders to the broader consumer credit market to cover affordable small dollar loans (including “accommodation” loans) that depository institutions are being encouraged to offer, credit cards, personal loans, and overdraft lines of credit. As a result, many consumers who currently rely on credit cards or personal loans would be forced to turn elsewhere for short-term financing needs, including pawn shops, online lenders—or worse—loan sharks, unregulated online lenders, and the black market.”

Few banks offer personal loans and credit union loans designed for subprime borrowers. Referred to as “payday alternative loans,” these borrowers represent less than 1% of the 100 million Americans who make up the non-prime consumer market. The reality is that most traditional lenders simply will not or cannot make these loans to borrowers with lower credit scores.

One-size-fits all interest rate caps will cut off access to credit and eliminate choices in lending products. We urge Congress to refrain from further restricting the ability of borrowers from accessing credit of their choosing when emergencies arise and pushing them to worse outcomes.

Senator Ben Ray Luján(202) 224-6621(575) 526-5475
Senator Martin Heinrich(202) 224-5521(505) 346-6601
Instant Loans: How to Get Instant Approval & Funding

Sir Richard Branson Should Pay His Own Way Into Space Instead Of Robbing New Mexicans

The following appeared on July 21, 2021 in The Federalist:

The world is in awe that billionaire Sir Richard Branson has finally accomplished his 17-year goal of achieving spaceflight. On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Unity reached 53.5 miles above the Earth with a crew including Branson. They spent a few minutes in zero gravity and returned safely to the runway of Spaceport America near the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Congratulations!

The international scene is abuzz with this latest and undeniably impressive addition to Branson’s resume: but at what cost? Branson launched his flight from Spaceport America, a project initially conceived as early as 1992 when the Southwest Space Task Force was formed to develop and advance New Mexico’s space industry. The project received seed funding through a taxpayer-approved initiative in April 2007 when voters in Doña Ana County approved the spaceport tax.

Almost every year since, supporters of Spaceport America have announced the “upcoming launch” from their facility or the need for additional tax dollars to expand the Spaceport and its capabilities. To bolster their claims for additional tax money, Spaceport America commissioned a study by the consulting firm Moss Adams of Albuquerque. The study made headlines with the implausible claim that Spaceport America began producing net benefits for New Mexico as early as 2013.

In March 2020, the Rio Grande Foundation tallied up the total costs to taxpayers, determining that New Mexicans have borne a total project cost of $275 million, while revenues approach only $54.3 million for the state over the last 12 years. The vast majority of taxpayer-funded spending related to capital projects and nearly $10 million in operational expenditures. In fact, new information shows New Mexico shelled out an additional $1.5 million in advertising expenses related to the Virgin Galactic flight.

Branson is already a billionaire. Why are New Mexico’s politicians lining the pockets of these already wealthy and successful entrepreneurs through taxpayer-funded, industry-specific subsidies? The impact of corporate welfare disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged, especially in impoverished communities like Doña Ana County and New Mexico as a whole.

In 2019, the state suffered from one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding economic lockdown of the past 15 months has certainly exacerbated our financial woes.

In fact, New Mexico trails the southwest in employment recovery. A recent report by WalletHub highlights the state’s 620 percent increase in unemployment claims, referring to the change in the number of initial unemployment insurance claims in the week of July 5, 2021 compared to the week of July 8, 2019. How can a state in this state afford to help send a billionaire to space?

Sir Richard Branson is now an astronaut. But from my perspective as a New Mexican and taxpayer, he sure seems like a wild-west robber baron, holding up taxpayer stagecoaches of the poorest state in the country to fulfill his personal vendetta of beating fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the billionaire space race. He’s “Six-Gun” Branson, 21st-century robber baron, a stark reminder of our 19th-century industrial past.

In the end, his mission was accomplished. But Six-Gun Branson has only proven that he can launch his spacecraft from any airport with sufficient runway length. I’d hazard a guess that soon he’ll be riding off into the sunset while my fellow New Mexicans are left holding the $275 million bag.

Patrick Brenner is the vice president of the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free-market research institute and think tank. An advocate for open government, he leads the foundation’s government transparency and accountability efforts.

Photo Hardo Muller / Flickr

State secrecy goes beyond executive team

On July 7th, Santa Fe New Mexican Government Reporter Daniel Chacón penned an article criticizing Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s staffers for using private messaging apps on their government-issued cellphones that use end-to-end encryption designed to keep conversations secret.

This is a good step in acknowledging the ongoing transparency debacle currently plaguing the Lujan Grisham administration. In response, Patrick Brenner wrote the following complement to Chacón’s column.

The following appeared on July 13, 2021 at the Santa Fe New Mexican:

In Daniel J. Chacón’s recent article (“Encrypted apps appear active on employees’ work phones,” July 8) he alleges that members of Gov. Michelle Luan Grisham’s administration have private messaging apps on their government-issued cellphones.

I’ll call your bet and raise you: It’s not just the staff of the executive branch; it’s dozens of state agencies. They are using encrypted messaging platforms, and they’re also enforcing the automatic deletion of messages after 24 hours.

I grew suspicious in the aftermath of the Searchlight New Mexico report on the Children, Youth and Families Department. The report was solid, but left some loose ends that needed tidying up. Specifically, I had questions about the official document retention guidance and how it was developed.

The document itself is disturbing. The bottom line is that the administration allows any employee to “delete any text message that is a routine communication and is not ‘required to control, support or to document the operations of government.’ ”

This record deletion allowance is antithetical to the principles of transparent and open government. Aren’t all routine communications necessary to document the operations of government?

Several official public records requests were submitted to a number of state agencies to ascertain the origins of this document. Eventually, we came across another interesting piece of documentation, from New Mexico’s Department of Information Technology. This is the agency responsible for deployment of resources like Microsoft Office and the corresponding productivity suite.

This email was a directive coming from the executive branch. Certain configuration changes were being implemented that would affect the Teams chat functionality. Microsoft Teams is a business communication platform that allows employees to instant message each other. Teams is currently utilized by over a dozen state agencies, including CYFD and the Department of Information Technology.

New configuration changes included a policy that all Teams chat messages would be deleted after 24 hours.

Chacón reports that Nora Meyers Sackett said “only one of the staffers has sent a message on such an app.” I can’t contest the validity of this statement, pertaining explicitly to Signal and WhatsApp. However, I can say that numerous state agencies are using Microsoft Teams, which is essentially just another messaging app by a different name.

Sackett and others routinely delete text messages. I requested all the text messages that Sackett sent or received during the month of April. The official response, from an attorney with the Governor’s Office: “We have conducted a search of records maintained or held by the Office of the Governor and we have located no records responsive to your request.”

By the time I submitted my public records request, the records were already deleted. Since then, I have been submitting new records requests daily, requesting all the text messages sent by Sackett for the previous 24-hour period.

Daniel, it’s worse than either of us could have imagined. State agencies are still using encrypted messaging platforms, and the administration is encouraging periodic destruction of documents by redefining records classifications and subjecting these newly classified records to document retention periods that facilitate their automated deletion with alacrity.

Rio Grande Foundation Settles Public Records Lawsuit Against City of Albuquerque

For Immediate Release: July 19, 2021

For further information, contact: Patrick Brenner (505) 377-6273

After eighteen months of litigation and negotiation, the Rio Grande Foundation is pleased to announce the settlement of the lawsuit related to the City of Albuquerque’s lack of transparency and openness. The actions of Mayor Tim Keller’s administration and City Clerk Ethan Watson have proven to be antithetical to the principles of open government.

The voters of Albuquerque defeated Democracy Dollars in November of 2019, and the Rio Grande Foundation’s exposure of numerous flaws in the proposal played a pivotal role in the downfall of the ballot measure. Furthermore, the Foundation filed an ethics complaint against Mayor Tim Keller for his use of the City’s website (CABQ.gov) in which he specifically called for voters to approve Democracy Dollars. Mayor Keller’s actions were found to be in violation of city ordinance by the Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices.

Following the ethics complaint, 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”.

The public records request was filed under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act and was accepted by the City in December of 2019. After dutifully paying the invoice to receive these records, the City of Albuquerque failed to provide all responsive records for over ten months. Patrick Brenner, the Foundation’s policy analyst, filed the original request.

On May 12, 2020, after exhausting all other avenues to obtain these public records, which included 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.

Repeated requests from the Foundation to confirm that these records were not being deleted had been continually ignored by Ethan Watson, City Clerk, and the Custodian of Records, Yvette Gurule.

During mediation, the Foundation also tried to address the city’s responsiveness to open government requests. After being presented with specific policy recommendations, the city refused to improve the process, leaving in place the glaring problems that resulted in the months-long delays. Rather, the city offered a sizable settlement that the Rio Grande Foundation will use to further its open government advocacy and transparency efforts.

In the interest of transparency, the Rio Grande Foundation is making the settlement agreement available here.

State agencies automatically delete messages every 24 hours

In Daniel Chacón’s recent article in the Santa Fe New Mexian, he alleges that members of Governor Michelle Luan Grisham’s administration have private messaging apps on their government-issued cellphones.

I’ll call your bet, and raise you: it’s not just the staff of the executive branch, it’s dozens of state agencies. They are using encrypted messaging platforms: and they’re also enforcing the automatic deletion of messages after 24 hours.

I grew suspicious in the aftermath of the Searchlight New Mexico report on the Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD). The report was solid, but left some loose ends that needed tidying up. Specifically, I had questions about the official Document Retention Guidance and how it was developed.

The document itself is disturbing. The bottom line is that the administration allows any employee to “delete any text message that is a routine communication and is not ‘required to control, support or to document the operations of government.’”

This record deletion allowance is antithetical to the principles of transparent and open government. Aren’t all routine communications necessary to document the operations of government?

Several official public records requests were submitted to a number of state agencies to ascertain the origins of this document. Eventually, we came across another interesting piece of documentation, from New Mexico’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT). This is the agency responsible for deployment of resources like Microsoft Office and the corresponding productivity suite.

This email was a directive coming from the executive branch. Certain configuration changes were being implemented that would affect the Teams chat functionality. Microsoft Teams is a business communication platform that allows employees to instant message each other. Teams is currently utilized by over a dozen state agencies, including CYFD and DoIT.

New configuration changes included a policy that all Teams chat messages would be deleted after 24 hours.

Chacón reports that Nora Meyers Sackett said “only one of the staffers has sent a message on such an app”. I can’t contest the validity of this statement, pertaining explicitly to Signal and Whatsapp. However, I can say that numerous state agencies are using Microsoft Teams, which is essentially just another messaging app by a different name.

Sackett and others routinely delete text messages. I requested all the text messages that Sackett sent or received during the month of April 2021. The official response, from an attorney with the governor’s office: “We have conducted a search of records maintained or held by the Office of the Governor and we have located no records responsive to your request.”

By the time I submitted my public records request the records were already deleted. Since then, I have been submitting new records requests daily, requesting all the text messages sent by Sackett for the previous 24 hour period.

Daniel, it’s worse than either of us could have imagined. State agencies are still using encrypted messaging platforms and the administration is encouraging periodic destruction of documents by redefining records classifications and subjecting these newly classified records to document retention periods that facilitate their automated deletion with alacrity.

RGF Statement on the Passing of Esteemed Statesman Donald Rumsfeld

We at the Rio Grande Foundation are saddened to learn of the passing of American statesman Donald Rumsfeld. On June 30, 2021, we lost a dedicated patriot. He was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico.

We are deeply saddened by his loss. A lifelong patriotic American statesman and our fellow New Mexican, Mr. Rumsfeld embodied the characteristics of liberty that we live by every day. He was an avid supporter of the Foundation and our friend.

Said Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing. “We mourn his loss but let us also celebrate his many gifts and continue to build on them. We will continue his mission for freedom so that every person has the best chance to thrive in life.”

He will be missed.

New Mexico government agencies do not have records retention policies

Dangerous oversight or intentionally vague?

The open government rabbit hole is getting pretty deep.

By their own admission, the New Mexico Department of Information Technology (DoIT) does not maintain a records retention policy separate from the “regulations”  provided in the New Mexico Administrative Code (NMAC).

NMAC vaguely addresses broad terms like “transitory” and “non-record” but does not specify any length of time that records ought to be accessible.

As an example, hospitals are legally obligated to maintain specific policies that explicitly identify the relative importance of certain documents, the corresponding periods of time that those documents have to exist, and the process by which the documents are disposed of after the time of the retention period has elapsed. And HIPAA is pretty clear that there are fines associated with improperly retained documents.

Without good policies in place, employees are left without direction and chaos ensues. Well, Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has cried havoc and let slip the dogs of perplexity.

In an official Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request to DoIT, I specifically sent a copy of the Document Retention Guidance currently being disseminated by the legal department of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration. I asked if DoIT has their own policy related to document retention. They provided the link to the NMAC section that addresses records management requirements for electronic messaging.

No description available.

When asked specifically for the policy that dictates the retention of records, they responded that “DoIT does not currently have a records retention policy”.

A behavioral pattern is developing. Over a dozen state agencies are using Microsoft Teams and those same agencies employ the executive branch policy of automatic deletion after a peculiarly and exceptionally short retention period, previously reported as 24 hours.

The absence of an official retention policy maintained by DoIT contradicted by the existence of legal guidance that “You may delete any text message that is a routine communication and is not ‘required to control, support or to document the operations of government'” is antithetical to the principles of open government. When in doubt, it seems that New Mexico agencies err on the side of deletion rather than retention.

If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. But with actions like this, it is becoming increasingly clear that New Mexico government is obfuscating the obvious and trivializing the importance of open and transparent government.

Rio Grande Foundation Files Complaint with New Mexico Attorney General

The United States Federal Government mandates retention rules for private sector entities. This is prevalent in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Section 164.316(b)(1) HIPAA requires that organizations:

“(i) Maintain the policies and procedures implemented to comply with this subpart in written (which may be electronic) form; and (ii) if an action, activity or assessment is required by this subpart to be documented, maintain a written (which may be electronic) record of the action, activity, or assessment.”

Section 164.316(b)(2)(i) also says:

“Retain the documentation required by paragraph (b)(1) of this section for 6 years from the date of its creation or the date when it last was in effect, whichever is later.”

Even the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires retention of individual tax returns and related documents for 3 years:

“Keep records for 3 years if situations (4), (5), and (6) below do not apply to you.”

If the government has the authority to mandate records retention requirements for private entities, we the people ought to invoke our authority to require reasonable records retention periods from our government.

Is 24 hours reasonable? The Rio Grande Foundation does not agree.

As such, the Foundation has filed a complaint with New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas after recent discovery of the executive retention policy of Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration. In January of 2021, the executive branch issued a directive mandating automatic records deletion of all instant messages sent through the state’s messaging platform after 24 hours.

We find this to be an egregious assault on openness and transparency in government and implore the Attorney General to take immediate action.

You can find a copy of the original complaint here.