By Paul J. Gessing
The news that New Mexico's oil and gas industry has again generated record-breaking revenues for the State was welcomed by policymakers and interest groups alike. But the disconnect between the State budget picture and the economic situation for average New Mexicans could not be starker. And this is one of the "problems" associated with the state's dependence on oil and gas.
Don’t get me wrong: we at the Rio Grande Foundation fully support the oil and gas industries. The so-called "progressive" Democrats in the Legislature who signed a letter to the Biden Administration earlier this year in support of the Administration’s illegal moratorium on new permits on federal lands definitely believe oil is a curse. We believe that New Mexicans are the recipients of a fabulous gift and that there is no reason for us to be among the poorest states in the nation as is currently the case.
New Mexico is "cursed" by bad politicians, not by its bountiful resources. But those resources all too often prop up bad decisions made by our political leaders. Until voters hold them accountable, New Mexico, blessed as it is by nature, will continue to founder.
Our poverty contrasts with our resource wealth in the same way as the new revenue picture contrasts with the state’s outsized unemployment rate. At 7.6 percent, New Mexico has the 2nd-highest jobless rate in the nation. It is not entirely surprising that our workforce participation rate which measures the percentage of people actually engaged in gainful work, also lags badly.
New Mexico's poverty rate is high (3rd-worst in the nation) and according to the US Census Bureau the state badly lagged its region in population growth over the past decade. We were named the number one "economically-failing" state another recent report and the “progressive” Voices for Children’s own report ranks us a dismal 49th.
It’s not a lack of money or government spending. Government in New Mexico is already bigger than it is in our neighboring states by quite a bit and our faster-growing neighbors spend much of their money on state/local government than we do. It is anathema to New Mexico’s “progressives,” but it is time to return a healthy chunk of this surplus to the private sector.
The low-hanging fruit and an absolute "must" for the 2022 legislative session is reform of our state’s onerous, business-killing, and regressive Gross Receipts Tax (GRT). This regressive tax directly and unnecessarily impedes the growth of small businesses in our state. Reforming the GRT to eliminate taxes on business inputs is a must this session. It can be done with relatively minimal revenue reductions, but, reducing high GRT rates would be a welcome move.
Social security tax reform has also been discussed in recent years. The tax brings in approximately $85 million annually. Eliminating it would make New Mexico a more attractive destination for retirees.
Finally, while it is a bit of a stretch for such a left-leaning body, New Mexico could do a lot to make itself more attractive as a business destination by simply doing away with its corporate income tax. The tax generates about $130 million annually or about 1/10th of next year’s surplus. This is eminently "do-able" and when combined with long-overdue GRT reform would go a long way to getting New Mexico’s economy moving again.
New Mexico’s Democrat-controlled legislature has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use this windfall to diversify New Mexico’s economy. If they fail, voters must hold them accountable.
Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico's Rio Grande Foundation. 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