Whatever happened to the Rail Runner?

With the back and forth over Gov. Lujan Grisham’s lockdown policies and ongoing concern over certain industries and activities (sports, school, indoor recreation) that remain shuttered or unavailable, there has been VERY little talk about ONE very expensive project that has been shut down for just under a year: the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.

According to a Downtown Albuquerque News for which Rio Grande Foundation was quoted, the commuter train has been shut down since March 15, 2020 when the COVID 19 pandemic was in its early stages. This is unusual because both Albuquerque’s bus system AND the national rail service Amtrak have continued operations.

The train “isn’t going anywhere ” both literally and figuratively. With the State and Federal governments having added “Positive Train Control”  at a  cost of $60 million and no employees of the system having been laid off during the past year (while empty trains occasionally did run up and down the tracks) there are no indicators that the train (which costs taxpayers about $30 million annually to operate) is going to be taken out of service anytime soon.

Of course, of all the things that New Mexicans have expressed dismay at not having over the past year, the Rail Runner isn’t very high on the list.

Rail Runner awaits service restart five months into pandemic | KRQE News 13

 

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Tipping Point NM episode 277: Haaland Hearing, Oil & Gas to Texas, Facebook Subsidy, Legislative Session Halfway Home and more

On this week’s conversation, Paul and Wally begin by discussing Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination and the start of her hearing process to become Secretary of Interior. Paul recently wrote about her here. The Lujan Grisham Administration recently said that oil/gas drilling companies are moving out of NM to Texas thanks to Biden ban. Oil prices have been tracking above $60/barrel and prices at the pump are up as well.

RGF will be co-hosting a virtual/free event w/ National Review Institute and former Chair of President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors Kevin Hassett. Find out more here. 

Let them Play! And, let them go to school! The Gov. and APS have failed our students, but the problem is systemic. APS in particular is a problem.  RGF has been tracking district reopening. 

Facebook asks for an IRB to expand its data center in Los Lunas. Facebook is NOT 100% renewable, but the real problem is the subsidy.

New Mexico “virtual” session halfway home. How are things going so far?

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The Legislature’s proposed pay raises are uncalled for & the budget COULD be used to reopen schools

The two-tiered nature of New Mexico’s economy is displayed in stark relief in the budget being voted on today in the New Mexico House. While many private sector workers, especially low wage workers have lost their jobs thanks to Gov. Lujan Grisham’s COVID-induced lockdown, State workers in New Mexico are in line for a nice bump in pay in their already-secure jobs.

Aside from the absurd nature of “across the board” raises for government employees at a time of high private sector unemployment , the Legislature is missing an opportunity to tie those pay hikes for teachers to getting back into the classroom. Budget documents are a critical way in which legislators can and do push for desired policies. If the Democrat-controlled Legislature wants New Mexico’s students back in their classrooms (as is widely recommended by health experts) they can and should add a requirement to that effect to the budget.

Even Gov. Lujan Grisham has expressed dismay that Albuquerque Public Schools has decided to remain “virtual” for the duration of the school year (we don’t know about the fall yet). If she wants in-person learning, she could push the Legislature to require it.

Report: New Mexico's October unemployment rate below Great Recession peak |  KRQE News 13

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RGF’s Gessing in National Review: Deb Haaland Could Be a Disaster at Interior

 

 

This week, President Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Interior, New Mexico congresswoman Deb Haaland, is up for confirmation in the Senate. Haaland, a self-described “progressive,” and a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, would, if confirmed, become the first Native American to head Interior. The Department manages approximately 500 million acres of surface land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States.

The agency’s work is of interest to all Americans because it oversees more than 400 National Parks, from Yellowstone to White Sands. However, the department is of particular importance to Westerners, as more than 90 percent of the lands it manages are located in the Western United States.

The nomination of Haaland makes a certain amount of political sense for President Biden, allowing him to place a Native American in a position of leadership over Interior’s vast network of Native reservations. These reservations, including the Navajo Reservation in Northwest New Mexico, remain among the deepest pockets of poverty in the country. The fact that no Native American has ever managed those reservations is indeed worth remedying.

But Interior is a large department with many lands of varying purposes, and Western resource-intensive states including New Mexico have already seen the Biden administration act in ways that will do significant harm to their economies.

At Interior, Deb Haaland would be a cheerleader for Biden’s early anti-energy policies and would likely look for opportunities to expand upon them. She has taken radically anti-fossil-fuel positions throughout her political career. In 2016, prior to being elected to Congress, Haaland traveled to North Dakota to cook food for the protesters demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline. She stayed in the camps for four days that September.

In May 2019, the newly minted congresswoman told The Guardian, “I am wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public land.”

Are Haaland’s positions and opinions based on sound science and history? In a 2019 Los Alamos Monitor story, Haaland claimed that “climate change in the U.S. started when Europeans arrived and started killing the buffalo.” Considering the numerous, dramatic changes that were a feature of the climate in prehistoric North America (and everywhere else on this planet), Haaland’s understanding of environmental forces is a bit off.

Given her radical views, it is not surprising that Haaland has been a strong supporter of the Green New Deal. The ambitious plan put forth by Represenative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and others would cost trillions in subsidies and lost economic activity. Among the plan’s radical proposals is a mandated shift to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and an increase in the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent.

On day one, the Biden administration pulled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. While this pipeline won’t directly affect energy-producing states, the cavalier approach to the permit raised red flags. Shortly thereafter, the Biden administration placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands. If confirmed, Haaland would be a staunch defender of such policies.

Haaland’s home state, New Mexico, is particularly impacted by what happens at Interior. The state has the third-highest Native American population in the U.S. and also happens to be the state most financially dependent on energy produced on federally managed lands within its borders.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, a ban on federal oil and gas leases could cost New Mexico 62,000 jobs, reduce state revenues by $1.1 billion, and reduce oil and gas production within the state by nearly 50 percent.

With Haaland’s nomination up this week and Biden already taking an aggressive anti-energy stance, it is ironic Haaland wasn’t Biden’s first choice for the job.

In fact, according to several New Mexico media outlets, Biden initially offered the position to New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan GrishamOn December 2, media outlets reported that Lujan Grisham had been offered the top job at Interior but turned it down. Lujan Grisham has never stated publicly why she refused the job, although she is just halfway through her first term in a “blue” New Mexico where she likely expects to be reelected in 2022.

As has been the case since the early days of Biden’s run for the White House, identity politics loom large for him. The president seemingly had the Interior secretary set aside to be filled by a Western, female, minority Democrat. A few weeks after Lujan Grisham turned him down, Biden settled on Haaland for the post.

The case for the slot at Interior being based purely on demography is buttressed by the fact that Lujan Grisham and Haaland have very different views regarding federal-land management. While both are New Mexican females (one Hispanic and one Native American), they exemplify opposite wings of the Democratic Party on energy.

From 2013 to 2019, Lujan Grisham represented the same Albuquerque-area congressional district as Haaland does now (Haaland will relinquish the seat if confirmed), and took a practical, moderate view on energy. This moderation is notably reflected in her 2015 vote to repeal the ban on crude-oil exports. She was one of just 26 Democrats in the House voting to repeal, with 153 of them voting to keep the ban in place.

Lujan Grisham continued to express moderation on energy issues when she moved into New Mexico’s Governor’s Mansion in 2019. During her time in office, she has expressed strong support for the state’s oil and gas industry and even said she’d consider asking for a waiver in case of a federal leasing ban.

As a governor concerned about her state’s economic and financial interests (and one who enjoys having oil and gas generate anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of her state’s budget), Lujan Grisham has attempted to placate environmentalists in her political base without doing serious harm to the state’s most important industry. Based on President Biden’s early energy policies, Haaland seems to make a better fit for the administration.

Senator Steve Daines (R., Mont.) has announced his opposition to Haaland’s nomination. Montana’s junior senator signaled he would not only vote against her confirmation, but also attempt to block her nomination from advancing.

“I’m deeply concerned with the Congresswoman’s support on several radical issues that will hurt Montana, our way of life, our jobs and rural America, including her support for the Green New Deal and President Biden’s oil and gas moratorium, as well as her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline,” Daines said in a statement. Is that enough to stop Haaland from taking her radical policies to Department of the Interior? We should all hope so.

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Independent analysis: New Mexico K-12 school opening rate among slowest in US

As if New Mexico students didn’t already face serious challenges, see this quote from the New York Times (which, to their credit has been pushing for schools to reopen). 

Unfortunately, you can’t embed the map here, but as of Feb. 22, New  Mexico schools are among the least reopened in the entire nation, a situation that is problematic for our State and its future. According to the Burbio data:

New Mexico schools are 21.3% open;
Arizona is 68.6%;
Utah is 90.2%;
Colorado is 77.1%;
Oklahoma is 67.5%;
Texas is 90.8%.

Whether these states spend more or less than New Mexico on K-12 and whether or not they have expensive pre-K programs, every other state in the region is blowing the doors off New Mexico. Of course, our State’s largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, has already punted on the entire 2020-2021 school year.

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Ghost Guns are not the problem

The Rio Grande Foundation provided testimony to the House Judiciary Committee yesterday evening as it considered House Bill 166, a bill banning ghost guns and 3D printing. A ghost gun is a term for a typically homemade or improvised firearm that lacks commercial serial numbers, making these firearms harder to trace.

There are laws already in place to prevent criminals from obtaining access to firearms. The bill also circumvents existing regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Furthermore, the bill’s intentionally vague and broad language and definitions will hamper continued advancement of 3D printing technology, which has many useful applications in industries like healthcare.

During the allotted 60 second window of testimony, the Foundation’s arguments were based on the unfair treatment of the 3D printing industry and how this legislation would negatively impact thousands of New Mexicans that would become criminals overnight.

HB 166: RELATING TO CRIME; CREATING NEW CRIMES RELATING TO FIREARMS; PROVIDING A PENALTY

This bill is seeking to do too much and will cause confusion. The unintended consequences of this legislation includes criminalization of an extraordinary number of New Mexicans that might not otherwise realize that they have broken the law.

A very particular example of “other code that may be used to program a three-dimensional printer” includes the mandatory Microsoft Windows print spooler software package. This software is included on all major distributions of the Microsoft Windows Operating System and is in the presence of many homes, whether the inhabitants possess firearms or not.

So… people that:

Have no firearms experience;
Have never held a firearm;
Do not own a firearm;
And have no intention of ever exercising their second amendment right;
But have a Windows computer in their home would be guilty of violating this new firearms law.

We can all agree that 3D printing has many useful applications. But passage of this bill will create disincentives that prevent continued advancements in this technology and in software development in general.

Now is not the time to enact this legislation as this bill exists in a state that is not ready for consideration by this committee. On behalf of the Rio Grande Foundation I urge the committee to table the bill.

Included here is the specific portion of the legislation subject to this interpretation:

“It is an offense for a person to distribute digital instructions in the form of computer-aided design files or other code or instructions stored or displayed in electronic format as a digital model that may be used to program a three-dimensional printer to manufacture a firearm, firearm frame or receiver or other major component of a firearm to a person in New Mexico who is not a federally licensed gun manufacturer.”

During the discussion portion of the committee hearing, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Tara Lujan, and her expert witness, Andrew Karwoski, the Deputy Policy Analyst with Everytown for Gun Safety, could not or refused to answer Representative Bill Rehm’s direct question about whether a ghost gun has ever been recovered from a crime scene in New Mexico.

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Wednesday Virtual Event: The Impact of President Biden’s Energy Policy Discussion: Kevin Hassett & Paul Gessing

E V E N T S

On his first day in office President Joe Biden shut down the Keystone XL pipeline, leading to the loss of at least 1,000 jobs. The 1,700-mile pipeline was planned to carry roughly 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.President Biden also paused fossil-fuel leases and drilling on federal land, inflicting a particular blow to New Mexico where nearly 35 percent of the land is federal, and the oil and gas industries combine to generate roughly 40 percent of the state’s annual budget.

Join Rio Grande Foundation as we partner with the National Review Institute  to host a conversation with NRI Fellow Kevin Hassett and RGF president Paul Gessing on the impact of this and other Biden administration energy policies.

As Hassett wrote, “the Biden agenda makes fossil fuels cheaper for everyone else on earth, and creates a massive rebound effect as foreign emitters capture market share for energy-intensive products at the expense of U.S. firms.”

Wednesday, February 24
12pm Noon MST (the “virtual” event will last until 1pm)

REGISTER HERE

ABOUT OUR SPEAKERS

Kevin Hassett is senior adviser to National Review Capital Matters. He is also Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Vice President of the Lindsey Group. Hassett served as the 29th Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers beginning in 2017 and rejoined the White House this spring as Senior Advisor to the President.Prior to his White House service, Hassett was the research director at the American Enterprise Institute for many years. He also served as a senior economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and as an associate professor of economics and finance at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, as well as a visiting professor at New York University’s Law School. He has been an adviser for many presidential campaigns and has contributed regular columns to National Review for almost 20 years.

Paul Gessing became the first full-time President of the Rio Grande Foundation in March of 2006. Since joining the Foundation, Gessing has been a prominent voice for limited government and individual liberties in policy areas including Constitutional liberties, taxes, health care, education, and transportation.He has published articles in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, US News & World Reports, The Albuquerque Journal, and several other major publications. He writes for and appears regularly in media outlets around New Mexico. Paul has also testified in Congress and before a variety of state and local bodies. Paul graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio with a degree in Political Science in 1997 and he received his Masters in Business Administration from the University of Maryland in 2005.

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Let them play! And let them go to school!

The fact that Albuquerque Public Schools has refused to reopen its doors to students for the duration of the 2020-2021 school year means (under Gov. Lujan Grisham’s COVID 19 rubric) that students at APS schools won’t be able to play sports. This led to protests over the weekend.

Should APS students be able to play sports? Should they be allowed to go back to school? The simple answer is YES to both. For the duration of COVID 19 the Rio Grande Foundation has urged policymakers to maximize individuals’ ability to decide how much risk they are willing to tolerate in going about their lives (or taking COVID precautions).

Ultimately, the problem here is one-size-fits-all policies that put policymakers in charge of decisions for which they simply do not have the capacity to make basic tradeoffs. The one-size-fits-all component transcends COVID. It has been a harmful feature of the government education monopoly for decades.

Of course, private schools have been open throughout the COVID situation. They have both a financial interest in what students and families want (as opposed to what unions want).

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Legislative committees hear lots of bad ideas this afternoon

In meetings scheduled to start at 1:30 this afternoon, several legislative committees will hear bad bills. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear SB 66, which caps interest rates for small installment loans at 36%. This cap would force loan providers to be much more selective with whom they serve, meaning that those who most need this type of loan would likely not be able to access them. The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee will hear HB 110, which would gradually raise the minimum wage to $15. The House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 20, a paid sick leave mandate; HB 166, which prohibits home assembly of firearms; and HB 193, an update to the state’s red flag law.

All webcasts can be accessed here. You can join the Zoom meeting for public comment for the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee here and for the House Judiciary Committee here.

The Rio Grande Foundation submitted testimony in opposition to SB 66, HB 110, and HB 20 and will speak in opposition to HB 166 and HB 193.

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