New Mexico politics summed up in one handy Trever cartoon

To say that we’re fans of Albuquerque Journal editorial cartoonist John Trever may be a bit of an understatement. But the Sunday cartoon (below) is particularly genius because of its multiple meanings about the way New Mexico politics and policies work.

  1. Private success vs. Public sector failure: While we have certainly criticized Bill Richardson’s decision to build a $200+ million Spaceport for Richard Branson, in the bigger picture both Bransons’ and Bezos’ successes are achievements for the private space industry. New Mexico’s schools are overwhelmingly government-run and funded. It would be nice if those who are rightly frustrated by the failures of this system would join us in focusing their efforts on bringing private sector competition and competence to bear on the difficult challenge of improving literacy in NM.
  2. A SECOND interpretation of the cartoon is yet another common theme of New Mexico government. Rather than doing the basics (like education) well, elected officials prefer to pursue expensive, high profile projects that really aren’t appropriate functions of government. The Spaceport is one such example, but Mayor Keller’s plans to build a new soccer stadium (with a starting price tag of at least $65-$70 million just to build, let alone property acquisition and inevitable cost-overruns) is another. Again, crime and public safety are crises demanding resources and attention, but Keller would rather build a stadium instead.

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The environmental hypocrisy of one of New Mexico’s top Democrats

Las Cruces state Senator Bill Soules paints himself as a radical supporter of the environment. In 2021 Soules introduced a proposal to eliminate ALL nuclear energy, coal- or gas-fired energy production within New Mexico. He also tried to force the State to purchase 75% electric vehicles. 

But Soules seems to set aside his environmental stance as long as the issue involves New Mexico’s Spaceport. Set aside the use of fossil fuels for Richard Branson to GET to space which involves the use of large quantities of CO2 emitting rocket fuel.

The folks attending Branson’s launch (and those likely to travel to isolated Upham, New Mexico for future launches) won’t travel by car, they’ll fly on private jets. According to a report from the UK, Private jets: can the super-rich supercharge zero emission aviation?  a four-hour private flight emits as much as the average person does in a year.

See Sen. Soules’ post-launch Twitter post (with “glowing” commentary on the number of private jets) below:

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RGF talks New Mexico Film subsidies on Fox Business Channel

The good news is that Fox Business Channel (unlike many news outlets) actually gave a platform to critics of New Mexico’s film subsidy program to discuss the program’s financial shortcomings.

The bad news is that like nearly all media outlets they badly misunderstand the financial implications of New Mexico’s incredibly-generous film subsidy program. Check out the story below which includes a brief clip of RGF president Paul Gessing discussing Hollywood film subsidies. Below that is a page from a 2019 Legislative Finance Committee report on the cost of Hollywood subsidies which provides details on the direct subsidies (not additional LEDA funds which are yet another subsidy).

In 2019 changes were enacted to New Mexico’s film program that made New Mexico’s already-generous subsidies even MORE generous. Here’s the LFC’s take on the financial implications. 

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Heinrich coming for your gas heater, stove

The following appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on July 21, 2021. While the newspaper cannot include hyperlinks to the data used in the piece we have added those links here:

Natural gas is a clean and affordable fuel they use to cook, heat their water, and provide warmth in the winter. Millions of Americans appreciate its benefits, even if they don’t think about them.

Just because you don’t think about natural gas doesn’t mean radical environmentalists (including New Mexico’s senior US Senator Martin Heinrich) aren’t. Heinrich recently wrote in the New York Times that “working to electrify our vehicles, homes and businesses is a critical part of achieving economywide net-zero emissions.”

He’s pushing legislation in Congress and for funding in the “infrastructure” bill for “electrification” – which is really another way of saying phasing out or banning your natural gas stove, oven, and furnace and requiring you to use electric heat and stoves.

Sacramento recently became the 46th US city to begin “phasing out natural gas in new buildings.” It’s not just happening in California. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Seattle, Denver and New York have all either enacted or proposed measures to ban or discourage the use of the fossil fuel in new homes and buildings.”

Just a decade or so ago the Sierra Club and other environmental groups supported natural gas as a cleaner-burning alternative to coal. Now, Senator Heinrich – counter to the economic interests of the state he represents (New Mexico is a major natural gas producer) and against the expressed preferences of consumers who use such appliances – is pushing to eliminate natural gas.

The push for a natural gas ban is premised on the idea that we should replace fossil fuels with wind and solar technologies that put us on a path to “net-zero emissions.” Of course, we’re not just talking about replacing all existing electricity generation; just 10% of current electricity production comes from wind, solar, and geothermal combined. Experts say “electrification” would increase US electricity consumption by 40 percent.

To say the least, Sen. Heinrich’s “electrification” scheme will require astonishing amounts of new electricity generation (at great economic cost) not to mention batteries to ensure reliability and new transmission lines to distribute it. We’ll be the ones paying for all that new redundant generation.

It’s an even bigger problem considering the reliability and demand issues already facing the Western United States this summer and utilities’ (including PNM’s) difficulty bringing new “renewables” online.  

And then there are consumer preferences for natural gas, which for some reason get casually ignored. You will have to search far and wide to find an electric stove in your favorite restaurant. That’s because natural gas is superior to electricity for cooking on both food quality and price.  Banning natural gas in restaurants means you would be waiting longer for your favorite meal while also paying more.

Any serious push for “electrification” of our economy will require massive government subsidies (thus Heinrich’s push in the current “infrastructure” bill), with electricity reliability already an issue the reliability of natural gas can be a literal lifesaver.

We all want clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Natural gas provides all three. And while the US has been steadily-reducing CO2 emissions for over a decade, China now emits more CO2 than the rest of the developed world combined (that includes the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia). Sen. Heinrich’s forced-shift to all-electric in the US will be costly and won’t achieve the environmental gains he seeks.

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.

 

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Tipping Point NM Episode 319 Bezos to Space, Open Records Settlement, Unemployment and more

Paul recently took another trip. He reports on mask mandates on airplanes & public transport among other things.

Jeff Bezo joins Richard Branson as a billionaire having been to space.

Pediatrics group wants ALL kids and staff to wear masks this fall. MLG still hasn’t announced a specific policy.

RGF settles w/ Keller Administration regarding open records. 

RGF has never been a fan of public financing of elections and we fought this w/ Democracy Dollars. Mayoral candidate Manny Gonzales recently received a reminder of how “public” financing can be politicized. 

New Mexico’s unemployment rate is tied for highest in USA. RGF also looks at the workforce participation rate.

For once ProgressNow DOES have a point about oil and gas.

More talk about reform of NM’s GRT. 

How do we address homelessness? An excellent Prager U video has some ideas.

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Comparing New Mexico’s workforce participation rate

People who follow the news in New Mexico are undoubtedly aware that the State’s unemployment rate at 7.9% is the highest in the nation.

But, unemployment rate is only one tool for measuring state economic policy. Workforce participation rate is another. We wanted to look at how New Mexico’s workforce participation rate had been impacted since COVID started, so we looked back to January 2020 and looked at data which is available through June of 2021. Here is the BLS workforce participation rate data.

As you can see below, New Mexico struggles with workforce participation and lagged the region before COVID. Of course, NM STILL lags the region, but more concerning is the fact that it seems like New Mexico’s recovery line has stalled.

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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.

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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.

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Tipping Point NM episode 318 Kenneth Costello – PNM/Avangrid Merger

On this week’s podcast, Paul discusses the PNM/Avangrid merger with RGF energy and utility analyst Kenneth Costello. While RGF doesn’t have a position one way or the other on the merger, it does care deeply about New Mexico utility customers and the potential for power disruptions and rate increases. This is one of the most pressing issues facing New Mexico policymakers this summer.

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