The Best, and Worst, of 2017

The Rio Grande Foundation is inaugurating its first-ever awards for public policy in New Mexico. We’ll be looking at both the best and worst in the year that was, focusing on what has and hasn’t advanced liberty, opportunity, and prosperity in the Land of Enchantment. Enjoy, and feel free to comment on our picks!

Taxpayer Hero, State

Governor Susana Martinez‘s administration has been a mixed bag. But since her inauguration in 2011, the state’s chief executive has been a steadfast opponent of tax hikes. Her commitment to fiscal sanity remained strong in 2017, and for standing against Santa Fe’s ceaseless pressure for more “revenue,” she deserves to be called a Taxpayer Hero.

Taxpayer Hero, Local

Eddy County’s Residents Against Frivolous Taxation (RAFT) didn’t like two of the three GRT increases adopted by commissioners this year, so it did something about it. The grassroots group gathered enough signatures to put the hikes before voters. And the anti-tax forces won, bigly. Kudos to RAFT for its hard work on behalf of the taxpayers of Eddy County.

Taxpayer Zero, State

“Zeroes” is more appropriate for this one. HB 202 was an unconstitutional attempt to impose the GRT on out-of-state vendors selling goods and services to New Mexicans. In total, 71 (of 112) state lawmakers for the scheme — mostly Democrats, but some Republicans. Fortunately, the governor vetoed the bill.

Taxpayer Zero, Local

Javier Gonzales, the mayor of Santa Fe, is an enthusiastic Nanny Statist. He was the driving force behind the “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance,” which would have imposed “an excise tax of two cents ($0.02) per fluid ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage products that are distributed in the city.” In May, voters in the notoriously “progressive” bastion rejected the tax, with “no” garnering 57.9 percent of the ballots cast.

Best Policy Proposal, State

HB 89 and SB 278, both sponsored by Democrats, unsuccessfully attempted to legalize cannabis for personal use in New Mexico. With marijuana easy to get and relatively cheap just about everywhere, the drug is essentially legal now. That’s why so many on the left, center, and right support legalization. New Mexico, with a weak economy and precarious fiscal health, remains fertile ground for a reform that would both boost fiscal health and spur job creation.

Best Policy Proposal, Local

Rather than spend a pile of money hiring contractors to redesign its official seal — something Santa Fe County did, with dismal results — Otero County launched “a contest with students … to create a logo that represents the county in a more modern light.” Commissioners experimented with an approach all “public servants” in the state should consider. There’s a lot of know-how in every community, and citizens of all ages should be encouraged to contribute their skills to government’s needs.

Worst Policy Proposal, State

During the regular legislative session, four bills were drafted to adopt the “Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.” The scheme, already adopted by several states, awards Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most number of individual votes at the national level. It’s a particularly bad idea for states with huge federal presences and small populations. (Sound like any place you know?) Fortunately, none of the bills were successful, and New Mexico leftists’ attempt to gut the Electoral College if dead — for now.

Worst Policy Proposal, Local

Policy analysts from across the ideological spectrum agree that convention centers are ineffective as municipal “economic development.” But that doesn’t stop local pols, in New Mexico and across the country, from doubling down on the downtown white elephants. In April, city councilors voted to “expand the Las Cruces Convention Center,” adding “25,000 square feet.” Taxpayers, via the GRT, will pick up the cost of the $5 million expansion.

Bureaucrat Behaving Badly, State

In November, Larry Mendoza, a Taxation and Revenue Department employee, pleaded guilty to extorting a business owner. The revenue official offered to accept $2,500 in exchange for cutting the businessman’s tax bill by $8,000. The FBI nabbed Mendoza in a sting operation.

Bureaucrat Behaving Badly, Local

In June, the Española/Rio Arriba E-911 Dispatch Center’s executive director resigned. Marti Griego left her job with $29,300 in accrued paid leave — more than double what policy dictated was permissible. As the Rio Grande Sun summarized, during her 18 years on the job, “Griego gave herself annual raises … almost every time with no Board approval, much less a signature by the ever-rotating Board president. That constitutes fraud and theft.” In addition, Griego hired her son for at least three fiscal years, in contravention of the center’s administrative manual.

Best Media, State

“Spaceport America” isn’t big on transparency. So kudos to Heath Haussamen of NMPolitics.net and Patrick Hayes, of NewsChannel 9 in El Paso, for demanding records from the facility. The journalists exposed a spaceport-generated “economic impact study” as bogus, and revealed that the facility’s bureaucrats “violated … transparency laws several times in response to requests for documents.” Let’s hope that greater scrutiny of one of New Mexico’s worst corporate-welfare boondoggles continues in 2018.

Best Media, Local

The Santa Fe New Mexican’s ongoing scrutiny of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department deserves this award. Voters in the City Different supported a $30 million bond in 2008 and a $14 million bond in 2012 for capital improvements, but the results of the borrowing have been less than impressive. In 2015, the newspaper documented that merely “eight of the 23 … projects that were supposed to be paid for by the 2012 parks bond” were finished. Trouble continued in 2016, when the state auditor, in an investigation of the 2008 bond, “found that administrators improperly spent some $2 million on employee salaries and other items that were not related to capital improvements.” In 2017, the New Mexican continued to monitor the department, with “a series of stories and a Parks Report Card that examined the condition of Santa Fe’s public parks, some of which were in good shape while others looked like they hadn’t been maintained in years.” (In July, for example, almost “half of the water fountains at city parks checked … had some mechanical issues or wouldn’t turn on.”)

Worst Media, State

For two years, reporters on the “Spaceport America” beat uncritically relayed the claims of Dumitru Popescu, founder of ARCA Space. The native of Romania moved to Las Cruces with great fanfare in 2015, promising revolutionary technology, some of which would be tested at the spaceport.

In November, the state charged Popescu with multiple counts of fraud, embezzlement, and forgery. After the arrest, the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Andrew Oxford produced a jarring exploration of the Romanian’s shaky record. Much of Popescu’s dodgy history occurred well before he arrived in New Mexico. Why didn’t spaceport reporters dig it all up before taxpayers started subsidizing his “company”?

Worst Media, Local

The Albuquerque Journal‘s Kevin Robinson-Avila continues to breathlessly report anecdotes about the “growth” of the Duke City’s tech sector. In reality, as Errors of Enchantment has documented again and again, STEM employment in Albuquerque, and New Mexico generally, is paltry. Bioscience employment is not thriving. App jobs are scarce. And New Mexico is not an “aerospace state.” Anecdotes and happy talk should not dominate coverage of the STEM sector. What’s needed is a hard-hitting investigation into why, despite decades of federal “investment,” tech is not thriving.

Quote of the Year, State

“Of course, the oppression of women has taken many forms beyond domestic violence. For centuries, not only could women not vote, but they could not maintain lawful possession of any money they had inherited, could not own land, could not attend most colleges, and could be locked up in asylums simply for disobeying their husbands or fathers. That is the bitter reality of RGF’s romanticized past when widows were the only socially acceptable single mothers.”

— Sharon Kayne

In a truly deranged piece posted on NMPolitics.net, the communications director of “New Mexico Voices for Children” claimed that the Rio Grande Foundation had a “wistful Leave it to Beaver view of the 1950s.” The Foundation’s sin? Pointing out the far-from-controversial fact that fatherlessness is a major factor in social pathologies. As the liberal Annie E. Casey Foundation itself admits: “Children growing up in single-parent families typically have access to fewer economic and emotional resources than children in two-parent families. In 2015, 35 percent of single-parent families had incomes below the poverty line, compared with 8 percent of married couples with children. They also have poorer health and educational outcomes and are more likely to drop out of school, to have or cause a teen pregnancy and to experience a divorce in adulthood.”

Quote of the Year, Local

“There were many side effects of the Trump era that we couldn’t see coming. An overwhelming sense of anger at the government overstepping its boundaries, deeply rooted anti-intellectualism and the ability of large corporations to stomp on the voice of the people, all led to the outcome. I saw people vote against an initiative that would not only transform their own lives, but the future of New Mexico; dare I say, the future of our world. We realized right before the announcement of the winner that even though our campaign cared about children, cared about systemic disadvantages, that it wasn’t enough to mobilize people in mass. All of a sudden, humanity was no longer a reason to vote yes.”

— Cameron Gonzales

The mayor of Santa Fe’s daughter was mighty miffed that votes rejected her father’s “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance.” After the vote, she “wrote” an op-ed that attempted to link Donald Trump to the proposal’s defeat. That was … a stretch. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump was annihilated in the city — in some precincts, Hillary Clinton topped 80 percent of the vote. Even in the parts of Santa Fe where the beverage tax enjoyed the least amount of support (District Three and District Four), Trump was soundly defeated. Santa Feans rejected the “soda tax” because it was bad public policy, not because they were riled up by The Donald.

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