As Legislature considers “high speed rail” proposal Rail Runner ridership remains well below pre-pandemic levels

New Mexico Sen. Bill Soules, a Demorat from Las Cruces, plans to push for both a $500,000 study of high speed rail and to push his $1 billion plan to begin construction of the system. Supporters claim polls show support for such a proposal, but  as has been the case throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond, mass transit has continued to lose ridership in New Mexico and around the nation.

The Rail Runner Express DID in fact see a slight rebound from the darkest days of COVID when the system was shut down for months at a time, but remains a far cry from recovering to pre-pandemic numbers and just over one-third of peak ridership back in 2010.

This, despite having been open for all of 2022 AND Gov. Lujan Grisham having reduced fares on the already-heavily-subsidized train by 75% to $2.75 cents for a round-trip to Santa Fe. This is shockingly low even by subsidized transit standards as two trips on the Washington, DC METRO subway system cost at least $4.00. 

Slumping ridership dogs Rail Runner - Albuquerque Journal

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Despite (or because of) “free” fares Albuquerque bus ridership remains well-below pre-pandemic levels

On January 1, 2022 the City of Albuquerque began what it calls a “pilot program” offering “free” bus fares for all riders. The program cost an additional $3 million above and beyond the usual cost of the City’s bus system.

Not surprisingly (given national trends in transit ridership), the number of people riding Albuquerque buses remains well below pre-pandemic levels. In fact, even with “free” fares in place ridership was 33 percent lower than it was in 2019.

Ridership numbers were a bit higher than the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, but the trend line remains negative for Albuquerque’s bus system regardless of the “new” ART system and zero-fares.

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City of ABQ Celebrates MLK (twice) while leaving kids out in cold

There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating Martin Luther King and his legacy. In fact, we applaud the City of Albuquerque and State of New Mexico for it. But, in a world in which customer service mattered to the City would it really make sense for the City’s community centers to be closed Saturday through Monday? The centers are already closed every Sunday, but for them to be closed both on Saturday AND Monday in observance of the Holiday when kids are at home and looking for things to do is just crazy.

You can bet that private businesses which actually have a financial interest in serving their customers will be open. It would be nice if taxpayer-funded activities for youth at least made some effort.

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Tipping Point NM Episode 469: Representative Ryan Lane – 2023 New Mexico Legislative Session

On this week’s interview show Paul talks to Rep. Ryan Lane (R-Aztec) the incoming House Minority Leader in the New Mexico Legislature. Paul and Ryan talk about what made Ryan get into politics and what he and the minority Republicans hope to accomplish during the impending 2023 legislative session. Specifically, they discuss New Mexico’s massive surplus as well as New Mexico’s emergency statutes which have been used by Gov. Lujan Grisham. for nearly three years.

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MLG’s “more of the same” budget”

Like few governors in the history of the United States, New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham has benefited from extremely favorable budgetary conditions.  With New Mexico oil production having more than quintupled just since she took office (and showing no signs of slowing) the State has seen massive revenue growth.

If ever there was a state with the means to break free from its moorings at the bottom of all the good lists and the top of all the bad ones, this would be the time. Instead, Gov. Lujan Grisham’s budget is more of the same: massive spending growth and (potentially) some modest tax reforms. It’s not that everything is bad, but it is clear that MLG doesn’t have “the vision thing.” 

At $9.4 billion the budget represents 12 percent spending growth. That’s on top of major increases in recent years.

The plan includes $750 rebates for single filers and $1,500 for joint filers and would total $1 billion. We have discussed the pros and cons of rebates here.

The Gov. has even proposed $500 million in tax relief, in part through cuts in some income tax rates and lower statewide gross receipts taxes on sales and services. The Rio Grande Foundation has consistently pushed for GRT reform rather than small rate reductions. Sadly, it seems that no matter how much money they have available Lujan Grisham and the Democrats just don’t have an interest in reforming New Mexico’s broken tax code.

Tax cuts and even rebates are nice. More spending is inevitable given the numbers. Sadly, none of this will “move the needle”  on New Mexico’s serious economic and social challenges and thus represents a mostly lost opportunity.

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APS “rightsizing” proposal underwhelming, but unsurprising

Back in April of 2022 the Legislative Finance Committee issued a report stating that due to a drop in enrollment at the District from 89,163 students in 2012-2013 to 71,119 in the current (2022-2023) school year that the district should “rightsize” its physical assets.  That’s a 20% decline over the decade.

Well, the District has submitted its plan to the Board. It’s not surprising that the plan is underwhelming. No layoffs are included nor would any facilities be shut down and sold off. Some would be repurposed with a portion of those being made into pre-K facilities with the passage of Amendment 1.

We share Board Vice President Peggy Muller-Aragón’s belief that “some communities — like on the West Side of the city, where her district is — may benefit from selling schools.”

“If we sold some of those schools … it would bring a possibility of building new neighborhoods in areas where there isn’t space for new neighborhoods,” she said. “We all know how housing is really lacking in our city.” Selling schools and redeveloping them would also have the impact of bringing them onto the property tax rolls and reducing costs of owning and managing so many properties.

However, with massive oil and gas budget surpluses and voters having approved plans to tap the permanent fund for even more spending, the incentive to make hard decisions simply isn’t there. Interestingly, New Mexico’s public schools were among the few states in the West to lose students in public schools beteen 2009 and 2020).

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RGF “ahead of the curve” on left’s plans to ban gas stoves

With the announcement earlier this week by the Biden Administration that it was considering banning gas stoves, the public was helpfully reminded by our friends at National Review’s Capital Matters (a publication RGF president Paul Gessing writes for regularly) that he had flagged this issue way back in August 2021.

Wrote Dominic Pino, “With the news that the Biden administration is considering stricter regulation of gas stoves over health and environmental concerns, it’s worth remembering this Capital Matters piece from Paul Gessing in August 2021.

And, while the push to ban gas stoves by Sen. Heinrich and the Biden Administration relies on studies which claim serious health problems associated with gas stoves. The folks at Junkscience.com have debunked one of the prominent anti-gas studies. Here is one quote from the debunking:

The claim that gas stoves are responsible for 12% of childhood asthma – an epidemioogic concept called “attributable risk” – is entirely bogus because epidemiological studies can only be used to associated exposures with disease.

 

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Tipping Point Episode 468: Gas Appliances, Trever, Professional Legislature, Minimum Wage Proposals and more

Paul was called “prescient” by one national publication for his analysis regarding natural gas in appliances.

Paul and Wally really enjoyed this recent cartoon in the Albuquerque Journal.

Proposals will be considered in the upcoming session. Should the New Mexico Legislature be “professionalized?” 

A powerful Democrat legislator wants to make New Mexico’s minimum wage $16 an hour AND index it to inflation (HB 25).

MLG backs down (at least for now) on getting government employees back to the office.

A new report highlights New Mexico’s poor ROI from higher education. 

Broadband or government boondoggle? 

 

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Report highlights New Mexico’s poor higher education ROI

A new and highly detailed report from Preston Cooper at The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity takes a close look at ROI (return on investment) for higher education degrees in each of the 50 states.

The author defines ROI as the amount a student can expect to gain financially from each individual degree. ROI compares the main financial benefit of college — the increase in lifetime income attributable to the degree — to the costs, including tuition and foregone earnings.

It will come as no surprise to readers in this space that New Mexico is among the very worst states in terms of ROI. When adjusted for state spending on higher education (New Mexico spends a lot) New Mexico drops to dead last:

The author points to an emphasis (or lack thereof) on “high value” majors as one important variable (having a lot of low-value majors is also a factor in the negative).

Strength of the job market graduates are moving into is another.

Cost of a college degree including state spending (New Mexico spends a lot and that number is going to grow significantly in the years to come) as well as spending by students and their families  is another variable.

There is a lot in the full report. One bright spot is that the best ROI degrees in New Mexico are various nursing degrees at University of New Mexico.

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