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New Mexico’s misguided approach to economic development

By Paul J. Gessing

In her message in which she explained her veto of large portions of the Legislature-passed tax bill, Gov. Lujan Grisham wrote, “Although HB 547 has many laudable tax reform measures, I have grave concerns about the sustainability of this tax package as a whole.”

She wrote this while the State of New Mexico sits on a $3.6 billion budget surplus thanks to oil and gas revenues (a boom that shows no signs of slowing down). She also signed a 14 percent budget increase which grew the size of government by $1.2 billion and included everything from increased film subsidies to $10 million for an abortion clinic primarily to serve Texans. Last year’s budget increase was over 13 percent as well.  

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Ag Census response needed from New Mexico ag industry

Every five years, members of the agriculture community are called upon to document their operation as part of the nation's agriculture census. The information provided by each of us is used to tell an accurate story about the impacts of agriculture in our local communities, state and nation. Without accurate data, we simply cannot tell our story, and policymakers will make decisions with only partial information.

As of April 21, the New Mexico response rate to the 2022 Census of Agriculture was just 38.6%. We encourage each producer, large and small, to complete this critical survey as part of the agriculture census. All individual information is protected from disclosure. If you have received your census questionnaire, please complete and return it as directed by the USDA. If you received a postcard with a control number, use that to submit the information online at the website on the card. If you did not receive either, or are new to agriculture, please call the USDA Customer Service Center at 1-888-424-7878 Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. MDT. New agriculture operations also have the option of signing up at https://www.agcounts.usda.gov/static/get-counted.html.

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Bringing the Land of Enchantment Online, Affordably

By Paul J. Gessing

The state of New Mexico is unique in both its demographics and geographical features.  Our vast land area, diverse topography, and sparse population have proven to be a significant barrier when it comes to broadband deployment and internet connectivity. This affects New Mexicans from the eastern prairie to the Rio Grande Valley. This challenge is particularly evident across low-income communities and on tribal lands.

Billions of federal and state tax dollars have been spent on broadband in recent years, but the problems persist because too often these funds were wasted or spent in duplicative ways. For example, according to recent media reports New Mexico just received a $40 million grant to connect only 800 or so homes. 

As proponents of limited government and the power of free market economics, the Rio Grande Foundation is concerned about efficient use of our tax dollars. Too often, progressive policies that fail to account for market forces exhibit the “high cost of good intentions” – programs designed to help the poorest residents of our state end up hurting low-income and minority Americans.

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Social Security Tax Exemption Will Now Keep Up with Inflation

By Fred Nathan, Executive Director, Think New Mexico

As New Mexico seniors file their annual income tax returns, many may be pleasantly surprised to discover that they are no longer paying state taxes on their Social Security income.

The 2022 tax year marks the first time Social Security income is exempt from New Mexico income tax since 1990, when the legislature first began taxing it. That tax was enacted as a single line on the second to last page of a long and complex piece of legislation. It received no public scrutiny until seniors began filing their taxes the following year.

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Legislature (barely) avoids double down on anti-privacy law

By Paul J. Gessing

In a small, but significant victory for free speech during the recent legislative session, S.B. 42, a measure that would have made New Mexico's already hostile privacy laws for nonprofit causes even worse, was miraculously killed on the House floor. The bill had already been adopted by the Senate, so this was truly a last-ditch effort.

Current laws relating to forcing nonprofits to disclose their donors are already being challenged by the Rio Grande Foundation in court. That original law (adopted in 2019) dramatically expanded New Mexico's campaign finance laws to cover nonprofit groups that merely mention lawmakers in their communications near an election. As a result, many organizations that have long had a voice in state policy debates would have been forced to publicly expose their supporters' names and home addresses to the harsh light of public scrutiny.

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Regarding the Gila National Forest's Bullard Peak Well Proposal, Four Weeks Later  

On 27 February, I received a Gila National Forest proposal to drill a new water well near Bullard Peak because "current water sources within the Bullard Peak [cattle-grazing] Allotment are not sufficient to provide water year-round for wildlife and seasonally for livestock." I was told that my "involvement in this analysis is encouraged" and given four business days to comment. I emailed my comments to the proposal's author, (new) District Ranger Elizabeth Toney, published them here as an op-ed piece two days later, and awaited Ranger Toney's reply. I consider it fair to match a four-day comment period with a four-week reply expectation and yet, having received no word from Ranger Toney in four weeks — not even a "thanks for your input, we're taking it under advisement" — I am left to apply decades of personal experience with Forest Service management in six states to answering my own questions.

First, a disclaimer. I am neither a tree-hugger nor a plunder-the-land advocate. I understand the quandary of historical/traditional livestock-grazing rights versus public-land management and the legal/moral challenges that result. I hold ranchers and farmers in high esteem — unless their endeavors rely upon taxpayer-funded agricultural-welfare programs. I have met, and in two states fought wildfires alongside, dozens of hard-working, admirable boots-on-the-ground Forest employees, but it has been 29 years since I've known a district supervisor or ranger worthy of similar regard. That does not mean I'm prejudiced; it means I'm still waiting.

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The Legislature's non-sensical approach to taxes

By Paul J. Gessing

With $3.6 billion at its disposal the New Mexico Legislature had the chance of the century (and possibly the last century) to enact sweeping reforms of the State's tax structure. The idea, seemingly as professed publicly by those from across the political spectrum is to diversify the State economy to be less reliant on the vagaries of oil and gas prices.

Unfortunately, even with a positively mind-blowing 42 percent single-year budget surplus on top of robust spending growth in recent years and a large state and local government structure to begin with, the New Mexico Legislature abjectly failed to address our State's problematic tax structure.

That means that New Mexico's job-killing taxation of business service inputs will continue. And, while the gross receipts rate reduction is welcome, it is simply not a game-changer. In fact, GRT rates will remain higher in Albuquerque and most other cities than they were when Bill Richardson left office at the end of 2010. And, due to a last-second decision to add even more generous film subsidies to the bill, the GRT reduction will be phased in over four years and contingent on continued record-breaking tax revenues.

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