© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/23/19
LFC brings North Dakota official for oil boom perspective
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
When it comes to oil revenue booms and busts affecting state government, North Dakota has been there and done that and has gotten a couple of t-shirts. This experience made it totally appropriate that the Legislative Finance Committee invited Allen Knudson, fiscal director of the North Dakota Legislative Council, to last month’s meeting in Red River.
For the roughly 30 legislators and the audience of lobbyists, staff and two or three citizens, Knudsen offered four general lessons from his state’s experience over the past 30 years. The lessons sounded familiar.
The oil experience is a roller coaster ride. Oil projections are “never right (and) sometimes not even close.” Don’t always count on experts. “Try to plan for the expected unexpected,” which sounds like the factors called “known unknowns” by former Secretary of Defense and sometime Taos resident Donald Rumsfeld.
A recurring theme, which Knudsen didn’t explicitly state, is to spend the money when it is there, not when it is only expected.
North Dakota uses a two-year budget cycle called a “biennium.” For the current cycle, 2019 to 2021, general fund revenue is estimated at $4.89 billion, or around $2.45 billion a year. Sales, use and motor vehicle taxes provide 43 percent of the money. (“Use” taxes apply to large things purchased out of state, such as furniture or vehicles.) Oil and coal taxes provide 9 percent.
The three oil taxes are royalties and then 5 percent on both gross production and extraction. Oil and gas tax collections first peaked $340 million in the 1981-1983 cycle, then dropped to $80 million in the mid-1990s, came back to $360 million in 2005-2007, blew out to $6 billion in 2013-2015 and dropped by more than half. Oil tax revenue was more than 20 percent of the general fund in the 1980s and now is just under 10 percent.
In the 1980s boom, the Legislature put the oil revenue into the general fund. Then came the 1986 bust. “Major budget reductions” affected schools. Housing developments weren’t completed. Drought made it worse.
The 1990s plan had a constitutional stabilization fund for school spending and a “permanent” oil tax trust fund, which turned out not to be permanent.
The 2008 boom came as the nation entered the Great Recession. The pressure was to cut taxes and spend on infrastructure, roads, schools, public safety and human services. The Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund was “to be used for one-time expenditures to improve state infrastructure and effectiveness of state government.”
With that 50 percent oil revenue crash in 2015-2017, general fund revenue dropped 30 percent. A special session of the Legislature cut spending by 7 percent and raided every available bucket of money. The 2017 legislative session brought another 7 percent spending cut.
Today North Dakota finds itself in the trap of having increased recurring spending beyond the trend of long-term revenue growth. Trend aside, with hydrocarbon tax collections back up, there is pressure to spend.
The newest plan includes budget stabilization, limiting ongoing general fund reliance on oil, and spending money only after it is collected. (Wow!). There are funds for tax relief, strategic investment and a constitutionally protected “Legacy Fund” with earnings to the general fund. This latter fund sounds like New Mexico’s permanent fund, which the left wants to raid.
As the policy contemplation continues, on Sept. 17 Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham went a full Bernie Sanders by proposing a really terrible idea: completely “free” college in the state for everyone. The quotes, called scare quotes, are around “free” because nothing is free. Such a move would completely blow the trend of state spending from its current track.
Legislative worry is well founded.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/9/19
LFC considers all that oil money
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
A warm, sunny, late August greeted the Legislative Finance Committee in Red River for a meeting to do what the LFC does best—consider longer term matters facing the state. In this case the question was handling all that money that the Permian Basin shale oil boom has brought to state coffers. The topic got more than six hours of the scheduled session.
This column and the next one will summarize the presentations. It was a joint meeting with the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee. That and the topic drew about 30 legislators.
The LFC builds one of two budgets prepared each year for state government. The executive branch, led by the governor, builds the other. During the legislative session, the two are merged.
As do other interim committees, the LFC travels during the summer. The LFC went to Portales in June and Cloudcroft in July. Group dinners allow more relaxed conversation, not that policy differences disappear. The environment may ease the workload of three-day meetings (plus travel time) starting in June and then extending to four and five days as the session approaches. The demanding schedule belies the notion that lawmakers meet only in Santa Fe and only for the legislative session.
The LFC membership mixes parties, regions, philosophies, age and gender. It provides a useful framework for policy debate given the dominance of the Democrats.
As for the topic, first and overall, the bloom is very much on the rose of New Mexico’s oil production and the associated monies flowing to the state. But away from the semi-frenzy of Santa Fe, the occasional headline wanders by, creating questions to be remembered.
In the House, the Republican numbers spell irrelevance, but the Rs still get to talk. Rep. Phelps Anderson, a Roswell Republican in his third stint as a freshman, said, “The revenue forecast is all blue sky.” He worries about what is “below the horizon,” noting that major oil companies make decisions on a much longer planning horizon than government, perhaps two years or more.
Anderson is interested finding new state revenue sources from renewable energy production, which, after all, is supposed to replace hydrocarbons. To his perspective, Anderson brings the real world of an oilman.
Rep. Rod Montoya, Farmington Republican, shares the worries. The Legislature can’t control external factors, he observed
“Heavy Debt Drags Down Shale-Oil Producers,” read the August 31 – September 1 Wall Street Journal headline. The August 10 Economist said, “Earnings of energy producers reliant on shale take a tumble.”
It’s a chicken-egg problem of needing to maintain production levels, but the shale wells have short production lives, which means more drilling, which means more borrowing. Smaller publicly held and private companies are getting the squeeze. In the meantime, the big guys, the Exxon-Mobils, with more capital and a longer planning horizon, are moving forward. Stay tuned.
Context for the LFC thinking comes from the 2019 session, which mostly did Democrat stuff under first-year Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, with an astounding 11 percent hike in general fund spending for the 2020 fiscal year that started July 1. Much of that increase came in public education, responding to a lawsuit.
Big changes can suddenly disrupt the energy flow of money to state government and the associated jobs. On July 1 two of the dozen coal mines in the Powder River Basin of northeast Wyoming closed and laid off 600 miners. Traditionally energy—coal and oil and gas— has generated more than half of Wyoming’s general fund revenue, reported the Wall Street Journal.
The LFC’s studious approach to New Mexico’s happy situation appears more than justified.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/26/19
SFI party brings “deep ideas,” rock ‘n’ roll to Santa Fe
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Our topic here is either 14 months late, two months late, or totally timely. It depends on perspective.
My choice is timeliness, thanks to the recent arrival of “Interplanetary Transmissions: Genesis, Proceedings of the Santa Fe Institute’s First InterPlanetary Festival.”
This sounds really far out, man.
The first InterPlanetary Festival was in June 2018. I didn’t go because I didn’t know about it. The second was in June. I planned to go but got distracted by a medical problem that is now being managed. Maybe in 2020.
As befits a party, the festival offers rock ‘n’ roll and discussions of ideas—big, interplanetary ideas—from a truly diverse set of people tending toward multiple degrees from MIT but also the University of Arizona, plus art in the form of Burning Man-esque pieces and more.
The difference for the festival, writes director Caitlin McShea in the book’s introduction, is that instead of sitting in some hotel conference room, you can hang out munching an ice cream cone and hear from, for example, an architect building lunar habitats or a virtual reality artist considering the experience of falling between Saturn and its rings.
Challenging, for sure, but also fascinating.
A comfort is that there are people thinking about these problems and much more. A further comfort is that the thinking happens here. About 8,000 people attended the festival both years.
SFI is a natural for this sort of thing. Its Santa Fe location traces, as much as anything, to it coming from people at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their friends, a group sprinkled with Nobel prize winners. Besides, Santa Fe is a pretty good place to think, businessman and politico John Dendahl once observed.
McShea says SFI is “a complexity science research center and educational facility.”
“The festival as a medium allows SFI’s perspective on planetary success—the complexity of our living planet and the systems that govern its fitness—to be contextualized, considered and criticized at times by groups of very cool and very different people.”
For New Mexicans the festival is another of those world-class elements that are part of our enchantment but are not sunsets. It should be remembered and celebrated.
The 2018 festival had ten panels. One considered social and economic engineering. The context came from the many attempts, through history, to orchestrate social outcomes and engineer social interactions. One was Chaco Canyon’s efforts to control planting and water distribution. Voting systems and the civil rights movement are others. Panel participants were Robert Gehorsam, former director of the Institute of Play (instituteofplay.org) and involved in virtual and augmented reality; D.A. Wallach, musician and venture capitalist; and Cory Doctorow, science fiction novelist.
Wallach suggested, “We should have some sort of provisional holding period that we subject new knowledge to.”
Another panel considered time design. (Can one design time?) Participants were Van Savage of UCLA, a theoretical physicist who switched to biology; Martine Rothblatt, founder of SiriusXM Satellite Radio and chair of United Therapeutics; Stephani Crabtree, an archeologist at the Pennsylvania State University Human Environment Dynamics Laboratory.
Time, the panelists say, is a nontrivial matter. Time isn’t necessarily linear; check Einstein. A mouse’s biological clock ticks much faster than an elephant’s. The larger the city, the faster the clock. Or, at least, people do things faster in bigger cities – one reason my daughter moved to Nevada from mega-metro New England.
Other general panel topics included planetary policy and regulation, autonomous ecosystems, living in space, intelligent systems and visualization and designing the impossible.
The general themes come from SFI president David Krakauer. Next year is “Voyager,” following “Stardust” this year and “Genesis” in 2018. The phrase “deep ideas” is from Krakauer.
Find SFI at santafe.edu and the festival at interplanetaryfest.org.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 8/12/19
Cultural attractions show long-term visitor decline
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
New Mexico’s cultural attractions seem to have missed the Instagram popularity driving huge increases in national park attendance the past few years. The park situation was discussed here in May. (See nmopinions.com.)
This conclusion comes from reviewing visitor numbers at the eight museums and seven historic sites run by the state’s Department of Cultural Affairs. (Most of the historic sites used to be called state monuments.) The visitor total for the 2019 budget year that ended June 30 was 992,574, down 2 percent from 1,014,041 but still above 939,159 in 2017.
The number of people visiting these institutions is worth some thought in the short term just to review year-over-year performance. More important, however, is the long term. Cultural Affairs could reasonably be considered the custodian of New Mexico’s Enchantment, that ambiguous mix of exoticness defining the state as much as does anything.
Four museums are in Santa Fe: International Folk Art, Indian Arts and Culture, Art, and History. The others are Natural History and Science and the Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque; Space History in Alamogordo and Farm and Ranch in Las Cruces. The sites are Coronado (Bernalillo), Lincoln, Jemez, Fort Sumner/Bosque Redondo and Fort Stanton. Fort Selden, called “seldom” in honor of its system-low number of visitors (4,370 in FY 2019), is in Radium Springs.
Santa Fe has the most museums, but the Albuquerque pair dominated on the people side with 490,000 visitors during 2019. In Santa Fe, the four, together, attracted 254,000. The differences are a lot more people in Albuquerque, suggesting that locals are a much bigger piece of the museum pie. In Santa Fe, the reasonable guess is that tourists are the bigger group.
The Sacramento Mountains have a cluster of four attractions with the Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, Lincoln, Fort Stanton, and the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. White Sands National Monument, roughly in the center of the cluster, drew 603,008 in 2018, a 46,823, or 8 percent increase over 2017. Around 209,000 made it to the other four.
Overall attendance seems to vary a few percent one way or the other with bigger effects from major shows, such as the heavily hyped Da Vinci event at the Natural History Museum in 2018. Year-to-year reporting misses the long term and, with it, understanding the effect on the enchantment.
It’s nice that the Santa Fe four drew 254,000 last year. In 1989 the four attracted 432,436. That’s a three-decade drop of 178,436, or 41 percent. (I have the old numbers handy in a report produced for Sunwest Bank.) The Museum of Space History is down 50 percent. Coronado attendance dropped 85 percent.
What happened? No clue. In theory the History Museum, which opened in 2009 and swallowed the Palace of the Governors, should have lured more people.
The White Sands visitor increase offers a thought if not an answer. White Sands is a giant sandbox with grills. That’s a long way from Indian Arts and Culture of Art or History. What is our job here, our mission?
Side note: The Albuquerque Journal quoted a Cultural Affairs official as saying, “Fort Sumner/Bosque Redondo celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Bosque Redondo last June, which made FY18 numbers unusually high for them.” Two problems here. The site itself, Bosque Redondo, “celebrated” nothing. It was a commemoration, a remembrance, by Navajo and Mescalero Apache people of five years in a concentration camp. The tribal people at the event made the distinction quite clear. No wonder they feel disrespected by the mainstream White society.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/29/19
Multi-talented Paddy Martinez, who discovered uranium, died 50 years ago
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Paddy Martinez, of San Mateo, died August 26, 1969, almost 50 years ago. He was 91. His moment of fame—actually a six-month moment—came in the July 1950 when he found rocks that were revealed months later as the first discovery of uranium ore found in New Mexico.
These days the Martinez story has faded to three words: “a Navajo sheepherder.” This is the designation of the Grants Chamber of Commerce.
Paddy was more than a sheepherder. He was something of a non-academic polymath, one of those people who knew and did everything.
To start, he was smart enough to recognize that the rocks he saw might be (a) uranium and (b) of value and then (c) to do something about his discovery. These connections had escaped crowds of educated types scouring the area northwest of Grants to supply the federal government’s post World War II and Cold War uranium demand.
The government had declared itself the only buyer. Martinez learned about the potential value of uranium by overhearing conversations, possibly at the Lux Motel or the Yucca Hotel.
The number of sheep he had make him a rancher. He took the rocks to Grants businessman Carrol Gunderson, who forwarded them to the Santa Fe Railway, owner of the mineral rights.
Paddy Martinez was tall, half Irish, a medicine man, a judge, a policeman, father of 24, a provider of labor for the carrot harvest, and facilitator of development of uranium properties, and he had a flair for languages. He brought people in to vote, too.
The building that houses the New Mexico Mining Museum in Grants is now called the Uranium Miners Building. This, effective in June, came after several years’ discussion between the museum board and the state of New Mexico, which owns the building. (The Grants Chamber should quit calling the museum “a simulated mining museum.” I’ve never heard of a simulated museum. The museum does have a simulated mine.)
Martinez was born in 1878, just ten years after Navajos were released from the concentration camp at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. My best guess is that he was a multi-talented man of his times, scrambling to survive in a poor area where Navajos were at the bottom of the economic ladder.
His third wife was Flora Hudson Martinez, who died in 2006 at 104. Her obituary from Compassion Mortuary in Grants said she was “born into the Sleeping Rock People and for the Red Running into the Water People.” I have spoken to three of her surviving children: Juan Martinez, and Flora Dimitriou and Mae Lynch, both of Prewitt. Flora and Mae provided the tally of 24 children.
Paddy’s name is one of the details commonly lost. His full name, the obituary said, was, “Patricio ‘Paddy’ Martinez.” My investigations are part of developing a book about New Mexico’s early uranium mining days (1946 to 1957).
His courthouse was Charley’s Automotive Service in Grants. The exact functions and duties of a Navajo judge remain obscure.
Before uranium came to Grants, there were carrots in Milan. Come harvest time, Martinez would find people to work the harvest. “Some found love right there in the carrot fields,” Flora said. When the newly attached couples had no place to stay, Paddy would invite them to camp on his land, Flora said. Such generosity was typical. Albuquerque Tribune reporter Howard Bryan, called Martinez “the patriarch of all Navajos in the Grants area.”
Martinez is one of two full-time New Mexicans in the Mining Hall of Fame. The other is Maxie Anderson, head of Ranchers Exploration and Development Corporation. Anderson has a museum, the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7/15/19
2019 Legislature Supports Soil, Parks, Babies, Little League. New License Plates Needed
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
One Catch 22 was removed from state government during the 60-day 2019 legislative session (maybe more, I don’t know).
Public safety officers, people who work for police departments but aren’t full-fledged cops and who get to take intoxicated and/or incapacitated people to treatment centers or jails, can now ask the facilities to take the individuals. Curious situation for the public safety officer—being employed to take people to the facility but unable to seek commitment to the facility.
This enlightenment, via House Bill 234, is one result of the session that saw 309 bills passed with 281 signed by new Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, double the approvals compared to former Gov. Susana Martinez in 2017, Martinez’ final 60-day session. These new laws are now in effect. The numbers come from the Legislative Council Service’s annual “Highlights” publication that, LCS says, “summarizes much, but not all, of the legislative action.”
“Busy” is the LCS word for the session. Indeed. Lots of new money from the Permian Basin oil boom explains the activity.
For the budget year that started July 1, the budget calls for spending $7.3 billion from the general fund, the operating cache. Throw in all the money and the spending total goes to $19.4 billion. Much of the additional money comes from the feds and goes to human services tasks.
The big stuff has been reported elsewhere. I will review some little things to illustrate the scope of state government.
Hiring people to fill vacant but approved jobs is happening across government. The assumption has to be that the work allocated to the approved positions was somehow essential. The Martinez administration had left the jobs vacant, a sort passive aggressive approach to reducing government, but the world hadn’t ended, for the most part, with the undone work.
However, for sure, too few people in areas such as children’s services has meant people being hurt.
There is the Healthy Soil Act (HB 204), a new department of agriculture program to “increase soil organic matter,” among other things. Outdoor tourism now is a division in the Economic Development Department (SB 462).
The list of capital outlay projects continues the mystery of using state money for local items such as parks and parking lots. The Manuelito Chapter House will get a land use master plan for $100,000 and a $60,000 motor grader. A $220,000 multipurpose building is set for the Mariano Chapter House. In Albuquerque it will be $160,000 for improvements at Sunrise Terrace Park with $100,000 for construction at the Westgate Little League fields and $120,000 for improvements at Zia Little League. So far as I know, little league organizations are private, non-profit entities. Why the state money?
One vetoed project was $60,000 for roof repair at the Catron County Sheriff’s office. Tough luck, guys, you’re a long way from anywhere.
Water isn’t usually legislatively interesting, but 2019 “saw an abundance of bills.” One, SB 12, made “nuanced changes” in the rules for publishing notices affecting water rights.
Local building departments “must” now require baby-changing tables in all restrooms (HB 205). The Gender-Free Restrooms Act is HB 388.
The 2018 session repealed certain requirements that the Department of Transportation maintain “fencing and signs related to cattle on highways.” This year SB 121 reinstated the rules including cattle underpasses.
My suggestion is to spend some of the new money to replace the faded license plates across the state that are annoying and a safety hazard because cops can’t read the plates. The Taxation and Revenue Department, parent to the Motor Vehicle Department, is thinking about it. This would affect everyone, not just little leaguers.© 2019
NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 7-1-19
Lujan emails obsess over McConnell. What about New Mexico and Gold King?
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
“I’m so humbled,” Ben Ray said in the first of two emails June 24.
Oh, puhleeze, Ben Ray. Or should I say, Congressman Lujan. Or Rep. Lujan. Keep it respectful.
Borrowing from Winston Churchill, Ben Ray has much to be humble about.
He’s running for the U. S. Senate. He seeks to replace Sen. Tom Udall, who is retiring. There is an opponent – a real one – Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
I get emails from candidates, masses of them. Some I save. A compulsion, I suspect. Sometimes it’s worth taking a deep breath and looking at the saved group, just to see what is said. That’s today’s agenda. Full disclosure: I’m no Ben Ray fan.
Campaign emails, besides being a pain for recipients, provide insight into the candidate and the campaign, which tells about the candidate. I saved 14 emails sent between June 4 and 14. One day had two emails. June 24 generated three.
The first two emails, sent June 4 and 5, were preposterous at best and probably, it seems to me, not true. These two emails were duplicates, which seems sloppy. The absurd part was the claim, “My race was just named the most competitive Senate race in the entire country.”
The absurdity starts with New Mexico tilting Democratic, “not quite solidly blue,” but seven percentage points more Democratic than the nation, said fivethirtyeight.com in March.
Then there is the problem of needing at least two candidates to have a race at all. The only declared Republican is Gavin Clarkson, who managed to lose twice in 2016, a congressional primary and the Secretary of State race in the general election. From my distant view the guess is that the Republicans will offer a ghost candidate, Clarkson or whomever, to fill the Mick Rich role from 2018.
As Lujan’s primary opponent, Toulouse Oliver seems intelligent, personable, way liberal (that means “progressive,” I guess) and a record of running something, namely the Secretary of State’s office and the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office.
The June 18 and 19 emails were also duplicates. Punching the “send” button a second time must be easy. These two were about what must be a Democratic national obsession—removing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The email says Lujan is “17 gifts short” of keeping his ads (which ads?) running. “Will you help me before midnight?” Nine of the period’s 14 emails were about McConnell.
The idea, the June 24 email said, is “to defeat Mitch McConnell’s Senate and elect me.”
Lujan’s resume includes night shifts as a blackjack dealer during what the Los Angeles Times called his “circuitous route through college.” His degree, from New Mexico Highlands, is in business.
My Lujan problem is substantive, well beyond dumb emails. It is his inaction over the August 2015 EPA spill of toxic waste from the Gold King mine into a tributary of the Animas River.
KOB TV’s Chris Ramirez introduced his August 13, 2015, interview with, “We ask Ben Ray Lujan how he plans to hold the EPA accountable.” Lujan’s response, ““We can always do better… there has to be full accountability with the EPA…” But was Ben Ray going to take action, lead the charge, fight for his constituents, be “the policing agent on the EPA,” as Ramirez put it? Naw.
Lujan’s other legacy stems from his father, Ben Lujan, being speaker of the state House of Representatives for 11 years.
For Ben Ray Lujan, it seems to be all about Ben Ray and Mitch. But what about the people of New Mexico? And the nation?
Much more fun to be Nancy Pelosi’s poodle.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 6-3-19
Before changing national monuments to parks, do deferred maintenance
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Turning Bandelier and White Sands national monuments into national parks isn’t just a feel-good deal. There are questions to ask, especially in light of the crowds overwhelming parks such as Zion in Utah, which I discussed in the previous column.
The proposals come from Sen. Martin Heinrich.
Bandelier is near Los Alamos and White Sands is southwest of Alamogordo and within the much larger White Sands Missile Range. Bandelier is about cliff dwellings; White Sands is a giant box of white sand.
More people have come to both monuments the past few years, though both remain well below the record visitor numbers of decades back. For White Sands, the visitor record was 666,879 in 1986. The visitor count was 603,008 in 2018, up from 490,506 in 2013.
For Bandelier, 2001 was the most recent year with more than 300,000 visitors when 313,850 came. In 2018, it was 198,441. The record was 430,138 in 1994.
If parks and monuments are all about attracting visitors, Bandelier and White Sands are simply not in the game. Zion attracted 4.5 million in 2017 and 6.3 million came to the Grand Canyon.
Like the parks with many more people, Bandelier and White Sands have deferred maintenance. The dollar figures are modest compared to the big guys, but are hardly trivial. The maintenance deferred at Bandelier is $14.6 million, with $3.1 million deferred at White Sands. Deferred maintenance at Carlsbad Caverns is almost $40 million.
For questions, start with these: Do national parks emphasize different things from monuments? What is the maintenance that has been deferred?
Similar sounding studies from Headwater Economics in Montana tout the wonders of turning the monuments into parks. Actually the benefits aren’t that great. Bandelier anticipates perhaps 35 new jobs and additional spending of $2.5 million. Bandelier is in Los Alamos County, which had 2.9 percent unemployment in April, which means full employment with about 9,000 jobs.
In Otero County, home to White Sands, employment is about 24,000 with an April unemployment rate of 4.3 percent. Turning White Sands into a national park might mean 100 new jobs, nice but hardly significant.
Another question: what will be the work done by the people holding these jobs?
One highlight of the Bandelier experience is climbing a traditional wooden ladder to get a better look at dwellings cut into the side of the cliff. Has the risk of many more people been analyzed? Hazards? Damage to dwellings?
White Sands has what is called the “Roadrunner Picnic Area” with about a dozen “picnic pavilions” with grills and plenty of room for cars. The sand bordering this area is perhaps ten feet high.
For this column, monument staff reviewed the picnic area history. Apparently it has always been roughly in the current location, dating to the 1930s. The staff says such attractions are built between dunes to minimize disturbance. Today, maybe, but were people that pure in the 1930s? This area appears excavated to me. The steep dunes look as if they had help from bulldozers. Staff assures me I’m wrong.
The main thing to remember about White Sands, whether park or monument, is that it gets really hot and people die—a French couple in 2015 and a man in 2018 on the same trail.
If White Sands becomes a park, what happens to the Roadrunner Picnic area? Expansion? More generally, what is the point of White Sands? Conservation? Playland?
White Sands does have a continuing cultural legacy; “Tank Girl,” one of the worst movies ever, was partly filmed there in 1994.
Sen. Heinrich should have the Park Service fix the deferred stuff and only then consider status changes.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5-20-19
Crowds overwhelm national parks, deferred maintenance shows incompetence to international visitors
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
We went to Zion National Park on a Tuesday a few weeks ago. We won’t be going back.
The problem wasn’t the park itself—it was magnificent—nor was there trouble with the detail-level operations. The crowds were the problem, the numbers of people.
Zion had 4.5 million visits during 2017, according to a U. S. Park Service news release. That puts Zion at third for park visits. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park led with 11.4 million, followed by the Grand Canyon at 6.3 million.
Zion is handy, in southwest Utah, 165 miles from Las Vegas. The Zion problem is that nearly all those visitors go into a small space—the Virgin River Canyon.
In presenting numbers, the Park Service does something amazing. Figures for deferred maintenance are listed along with visitation figures. The listing looks like a passive-aggressive way to inspire repair money. Such things are usually avoided.
The deferral for Zion is $65.3 million. Almost trivial compared to $215.4 million for Great Smoky and $329.4 million at the Grand Canyon. I already had the general sense that the park system was a mess.
The trash bins tell a story. Zion visitors come from around the world, judging from the languages I heard and from the trash bins. The bins were labeled “trash” in ten languages (I counted). The labels used perhaps five alphabets.
People come to see these attractions, lots of people, enough that park management apply crowd control measures.
Buses are the appropriate Zion transport into Virgin Canyon. Buses were full on our Tuesday. We waited an hour to get on. Aisles were also full. Straphangers, they are called in big cities. One managed, by chance I hope, to position her butt two inches from my face.
Through these attractions and cities such as Washington D. C., New York and San Francisco, we collectively are presenting our country to the world. The international visitors will be among their country’s elite. To the extent we do a marginal job with our attractions, we are saying the United States is a marginal country. That’s stupid. Maybe even dangerous.
Zion attracted 483,487 people during April 2018, averaging 16,116 per day. The June daily average was 18,048, eight times the number coming to White Sands National Monument.
Two new national parks are proposed for New Mexico, elevations of monuments to park status. New Mexico parks are relatively ignored. “Only” 603,009 people game to White Sands during 2018.
The massive crowds are relatively new. Since 2010 the number visiting Zion has increased 62 percent, or 1.66 million, from 2.7 million, hardly a small figure, to 4.3 million in 2018. Social media, Instagram, in particular, explains the growth, says an excellent team-written article in The Guardian, a British publication.
New amenities draw people, The Guardian says. Wifi, for example. The internet in Yelowstone? The crowds create pressures. Traffic. The crowds mass in the small communities next to parks. Around three million people cruise Estes Park, Colo., heading to adjacent Rocky Mountain Nation Park.
The masses generate byproducts—sewage, crime, fights in parking lots. Toilets are one infrastructure item not repaired with the millions of deferred maintenance dollars. What to do? Cope in the short term. Possible tactics include requiring reservations, restricting parking, eliminating street parking.
An article published at PERC.com suggests higher fees. The article compares park fees—either free or low—with Disneyland at $100 person per day. Such a move would increase the economic value of a park visit.
We need many creative approaches to fix our parks, both for Americans and for our visitors from around the world.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 5-6-19
Oil money gusher to continue, policy care needed
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
The gusher of oil money into state government looks to continue for the immediate future. And, by the way, a few billion for wind farms will transform parts of very rural New Mexico over the next few years. South of Clines Corners lies the third best wind energy resource area (meaning lots of wind) in the nation.
ven so, there is “significant unfinished business,” David Abbey, Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) director, told the New Mexico Tax Research Institute Tax Policy Conference in Albuquerque May 2.
State government’s revenue future is tied to oil and gas, John Tysseling, of the accounting firm Moss Adams, told the audience of 125. “That future is very bright. Oil and gas revenues have just simply exploded.” Tysseling reported the results of an oil and gas revenue study his firm has done for the institute.
In one sense, an element of luck enters government’s oil and gas revenue happiness. The element is not with the production, but where it comes from. The Moss Adams study compared nine oil producing states, including the Dakotas. More than 80 percent of New Mexico production is from state and federal land, which generates revenue such as rents and royalties for the state. Other than Colorado, the mineral production was substantially on private land in the other states studied.
Not only is production increasing, the rate of monthly year-over-year production growth keeps increasing, Tysseling said.
“This merger and acquisition thing” is amazing, he said. The fight over Anadarko Petroleum between Chevron and Occidental Petroleum is one example. Anadarko has substantial shale oil assets in the Permian Basin that includes Eddy and Lea counties.
Economic projections suggest that Permian Basin production could double in the next five years, said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, Gallup Democrat and LFC vice chair. “We just don’t know where it’s going to stop,” she said.
The oil boom has pushed the direct revenues from oil and gas to an estimated 35 percent of the state’s general fund for the 2019 budget year (FY 19), which ends June 30. Recurring revenue will pass $7.5 billion for FY 19. Monthly wage job totals—848,300 in March—are approaching the pre-recession peaks of ten years ago.
The compound annual oil production growth rate has been about 20 percent from 2012 to 2019.
“We do have some concerns about capital outlay,” Lundstrom said. That seems an understatement. There about 1,608 projects undone with $640 million allocated but not spent. In the southeast, “infrastructure is crumbling,” she said.
“We were behind the day we walked in the door” for the 2019 legislature, Lundstrom said, because 200 bills had already been filed. The ultimate outcome of the session was an FY 20 budget topping $7 billion, something that Lundstrom thought she would never see in her wildest dreams. That budget includes $3.2 billion for public education with “an unprecedented” $448 billion increase. Early childhood programs get $438 billion, with a $125 million, or 40 percent increase.
Taxation and Revenue Secretary Stephanie Schardin Clarke summarized her department’s work. Each week the department sends 51,500 letters, receives 24,500 pieces of mail, processes 16,500 checks and banks $160 million. There are nearly three million tax returns each year. Around $8 billion to $9 billion is distributed each year to state, local and tribal governments.
The unfinished business includes unfunded pension liability, capital outlay, gross receipts taxes, and fiscal stabilization, which Abbey called “a relatively new topic.” Topics worth studying include the policies of North Dakota, which has had massive oil revenue, and additional reserve funds.
All this good news is a challenge for our citizen legislators. As Lundstrom said, “We have to be very careful” about what we do.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4-22-19
NM banking world shrinking, real wealth found in Wyoming
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Ya gotta have money to make money. So it is said. That’s not always true, but a quick review of my past entrepreneurial ventures confirms that it is far more difficult to start a company without money.
Still, money must be around for the society to function. Retailers must do something with the non-electronic cash at the end of the day. People trade money for stuff. Banks, mostly, are not in the venture business.
Without a bank in a community, these societal basics get more complicated. The retailer must drive 20 miles to deposit cash. That costs time and gas money.
These financial basics aren’t wealth. In New Mexico when we think “wealth” the tendency is to think Los Alamos, the county with the state’s highest per capita income in 2017. Each person in Los Alamos County earned, on average, $68,053. Santa Fe was second at $55,553.
For some reason, in writing about county incomes in New Mexico, I never thought to look at counties in nearby states until recently. Oops.
Real wealth is found in Teton County, Wyoming, home to the Jackson Hole valley, traffic jams and two national parks. The U. S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows Teton County’s 2017 per capital income of $233,860, the nation’s highest. That’s amazing. Locals suspect the rich guys are gaming tax residence rules, putting their income into Wyoming and not in, say, California with higher tax rates, while not living in Wyoming full time.
The Colorado high is $143,812 in the Rocky Mountain county of Pitkin, which contains Aspen. In Utah it is Summit County, immediately east of Salt Lake City, at $121,952 and home to the Sundance Film Festival.
New Mexico lacks wealth; that’s the story from the four numbers.
Speaking last year to the Bill Lane Center for the American West 2018 State of the West symposium, Randal Quarles, Federal Reserve Board vice chairman for supervision, stressed the importance of competition in banking and financial services to rural western communities, where "small businesses are key drivers of growth." These communities have about 20 percent fewer banks than in the East.
To help foster competition in the rural west, Quarles advocated easing a number of regulations. Some of that may be developing.
Meanwhile, New Mexico’s banking world continues shrinking. The ability of New Mexico firms to operate shrinks also, though no numbers exist to measure the situation other than the state’s continuing non-oil slump.
Some numbers: As of June 30, 2013, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reported that New Mexico had 63 financial institutions (banks and savings and loans) operating 514 offices. By mid-2017, it was 58 firms operating 472 offices. A year later, the 58 firms were still here, but five more offices had disappeared, bringing the total 467. Deposits were $31.3 billion as of June 30, 2018, up a grand 2.5 percent from mid-2017.
Wells Fargo remained the state’s largest, but grew just 1.9 percent over the 2017-2018 year and dropped market share a bit. Wells closed five offices during the year. Wells Fargo staff must deal with the continuing fallout from corporate errors a few years back. Most recently Wells CEO Timothy Sloan quit in late March.
With the sale of Los Alamos National Bank to Enterprise Financial Services of Clayton, Mo., the largest New Mexico-owned bank became First American Bank whose parent is First American Bancshares of Artesia. First American, with 13 branches across southern New Mexico and two more in Albuquerque, was the state’s seventh largest as of mid-2018. Greg Marrs of Artesia is First American president. With firms such as First American, plus oil, the Eddy County income was third in the state in 2017.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 4-8-19
Jobs up 2 percent! No, wait! It’s One Percent.
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Remember 2018? Remember the reported wage job growth for the second half of the year? Borderline euphoric it was, by New Mexico standards, anyway. Six of the last seven months of 2018 showed job growth above 2 percent.
Perhaps forgotten in the slosh of oil revenue tossed around by the recent Legislature is that last year the economists were standing in a corner, saying quietly—economists tend to speak quietly—that the 2 percent growth was….ahhhh….preliminary and wouldn’t last. The economists were right, of course; they know how these things work.
There were 20,400 new wage jobs (2.4 percent) claimed in the first release of job growth figures, seasonally unadjusted, for the period from December 2017 to December 2018.
A month later, the report for the year between January 2018 and January 2019 said New Mexico added 9,200 wage jobs for a 1.1 percent increase. We’re back to preliminary numbers now. For February, year-over-year, the growth was 7,400 jobs or 0.9 percent.
The growth rate did not suddenly plummet. The difference is statistical. It happens every year.
The process is called “benchmarking.” The job numbers sound precise, but they are estimates. There is a plus or minus factor in the reported or “headline” number. Adding numbers gathered over a longer time period, quarterly, here, instead of monthly, increases precision. Adding numbers not part of the original estimates will also add precision. For our job numbers, the benchmarking plugs in jobs found at firms including hospitals (which employ many people), private schools and religious organizations.
For January, year-over-year from the benchmarked base, metro Albuquerque added 2,000 jobs, a 0.5 percent gain. Las Cruces showed a 900-job, or 1.3 percent, gain. The one-month performance for Las Cruces was a loss of 2,300 jobs. Santa Fe also had a 900-job increase, but the percentage gain was 1.5 percent, reflecting Santa Fe’s wage job total being a bit less than Las Cruces. Farmington dropped 500 jobs over the year, a one percent decline.
Albuquerque’s originally claimed job performance took a big hit from the numbers reported for the December 2017 to December 2018 year. That period showed year-over-year wage employment up 10,300 jobs, or 2.6 percent. For Las Cruces and Santa Fe, the December percentage job growth was less than half the January. The growth was 0.4 percent for Las Cruces and 0.6 percent for Santa Fe. Farmington’s December performance was a 0.6 percent increase.
Some of the revisions supported situations I had wondered about for months. We have an oil boom, and yet mining, which includes oil and gas, showed little job growth. The revisions bumped mining jobs up by an average of 3,400 while reducing construction, which had seemed extra robust, down by 1,600.
Leisure and hospitality showed a banner year in 2018, typically leading the industry sectors in job growth. It wasn’t quite that good. The revisions dropped 3,400 leisure and hospitality jobs.
Under Bill McCamley, new Department of Workforce Solutions secretary, DWS’ Labor Market Review newsletter has been redesigned with jazzy graphics and what appears to be less information. One addition is my favorite economic number, the ratio of employment to population. For January 2019, the ratio shows 55 percent of New Mexicans as employed, up six tenths of a point in a year. A comparison to other states is missing. That comparison would show only Mississippi and West Virginia with a smaller percentage of the population working. Maybe McCamley, who is an inquisitive guy, will start to wonder why.
The main lesson, I suggest, is to restrain our happiness or sadness when reading the headlines on the monthly job report stories. Things will change. Maybe up. Maybe down.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3-25-19
Spoons walk during legislative session, enchanting many but not all
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progresss
The day after the legislative session ended, I happened to glance at the framed Agnes cartoon on my office wall. Agnes says, “Someday I will visit New Mexico… It is the ‘Land of Enchantment.’”
Agnes’s friend Trout asks, “What’s enchantment?”
Agnes provides a definition. “That’s like when you see spoons walk around or hear the towel whisper your name as you dry your hair.”
Trout responds, “You do that here.”
Agnes says, “Yes, but New Mexico has low humidity.”
The spoon walk during the session was busy. I watched from a distance. With the near disappearance of Republicans from the House, the stage was set for Democrats to roll. (In the 2018 election Democrats took their House majority to 46 of the 72 seats, up from 38.)
In a late session constituent letter, Rep. Gail Chasey, my representative, a quiet establishment liberal, called it “the most exciting, fast-paced, and productive session I’ve ever witnessed.” Chasey has been witnessing since 1997.
If quantity means productivity, 310 bills passed, the most in ten years. For quality, maybe not so much, I suspect.
Chasey’s list of “major reforms” started with “requiring background checks on nearly all firearms sales.” The Republican Party, ever constructive, is talking about a referendum to dump the law.
The constituent letter from my senator, the very liberal Gerald Ortiz y Pino, started with money. The session’s “incredible activity level” came from having a new governor, more House Democrats, much more money (the oil bonanza) and “eight years of pent-up demand after the lean, frugal Martinez administration.”
Ortiz y Pino was nicer to former Gov. Martinez than I would have been. But one can’t just ignore demand.
The new Department of Early Childhood Education and Care was the first specific Ortiz y Pino cited. He then expressed unhappiness at the continued failure to raid (my term) the Permanent Land Grant Fund for education money. The Senate Rules Committee is “a treacherous site for many of our most progressive ideas,” he wrote.
What didn’t happen? Broadband, for one. Attention to the gross receipts tax, for another. The state employee pension fund liabilities. The movie production subsidy was finessed.
In a blog entry Jose Garcia of Las Cruces – a Democrat, former New Mexico State political science professor and higher education secretary during Martinez’s first term – called the Senate “the adults in the room.”
I have known Garcia for around 30 years and, while I don’t agree with him on everything, I find his views to be interesting, often wise and thoughtful. He characterizes the past three governors as providing, in order, “deliberate non-governance… expensive smoke-and-mirroring from a presidential wannabe… and sullen, petulant ineptness…”
Throwing big money—$400 million—at public education sounds serious, Garcia says. Money isn’t everything in public education and, in any case, he sees nothing “providing for a serious accounting.”
The Early Childhood Department that Ortiz y Pino likes, Garcia says “sounds good,” but will be “administratively expensive and likely to further fragment an already highly fragmented, dysfunctional system.”
The long term education system issues aren’t being addressed, such as desired workforce, improving student achievement, ethnic achievement gaps, getting to national average reading and math scores. Without long term thinking, “we will lurch from fad to fad.”
Making it harder to buy a gun will be remembered by Hispanics, Garcia says. “This drives a deep wedge between Hispanic citizens everywhere and the Democratic party,” as did the abortion issue. Garcia is familiar with Mora County, where people are especially unhappy about the situation just as they are with that urban favorite, sanctuary laws. Rural Democrats will wonder, what has the Democratic Party done for me lately?
Walking spoons aren’t enough.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2-25-19
NM gets 10 wilderness areas from natural resources bill
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Pontificating and proclaiming perhaps are the preferred posture for members of Congress and President Trump. Twitter helps. Little preparation is required for the hollering, it seems to me.
But sometimes, more often than we might think, elected officials knuckle down and do the work of the people.
S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, passed by the Senate Feb. 12 is an example. The 662-page bill combined more than 100 public lands-related bills. The vote was 92 to 8. The opponents were all Republicans. House passage is expected, news reports indicate.
So far as I have seen, S. 47 hasn’t generated big headlines, nor many small ones. The bill tends to do the things government does, in this case in the natural resources arena. The new stuff isn’t grand. A lot of stuff is continued.
That’s what government does, mostly, continues things, purist wishes of conservatives and the left aside. The respective ideological camps don’t fuss, bowing instead to the wishes of supporters of the particular functions.
The very long list of supporting organizations included the Girl Scouts of the USA.
S. 47’s original sponsor was Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat. The chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, joined Cantwell to sponsor the revised version. New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich was a co-sponsor of S. 47. I didn’t see Sen. Tom Udall on the S. 47 co-sponsor list, though of course he voted for the bill.
In this brief space, I will step beyond those small headlines, seeking an idea of legislative workings. The 16 topics, some quite specific, that are addressed by the Committee on Natural Resources summary, range from wildlife conservation, small miner waivers of claim maintenance fees, the Denali National Park and Preserve natural gas pipeline (in Alaska), reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and recreational activities on federal or nonfederal lands.
The bill adds ten wilderness areas scattered among Doña Ana, Luna, Taos and Rio Arriba counties including the 27,673-acre Aden Lava Flow Wilderness in Doña Ana County on land administered by the U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The wilderness areas, the only specific New Mexico mentions in the bill, are mostly inside existing national monuments.
For one newly wilderness designated parcel, the bill says, “The Secretary of the Army shall develop a plan for public outdoor recreation on the parcel that is consistent with the primary military mission of the parcel.”
Land exchanges between New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands and the BLM are discussed.
S. 47 creates, in Los Angeles, the Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and National Monument. The disaster happened in 1928. Clearly an urgent matter.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund expired in September. It uses money from federal oil and gas leasing income to buy land and water for conservation and recreation purposes, says USA Today. A statement from Udall called the bill “vital.”
One bill incorporated into SB 47 was the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Wild and Scenic River Act. It expanded the federal government’s reach to have the Secretary of the Interior administer segments of the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed in Rhode Island. One might think tiny Rhode Island isn’t big enough to have rivers, much less have the federal government administer the watershed. Wrong. The state has rivers, I happen to know (long story). They are wet and cold. But Rhode Island doesn’t do much maintenance, so it needs the feds to maintain things considered properly part of government.
All these modest non-ideological programs make for a bigger government. Just getting the necessary things done. Anyone thinking the government is going to shrink doesn’t understand.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2-11-19
20,000 people each year find mineral magnificence at Mining Museum
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
We talk a lot about the New Mexico landscape -- the surface, that is. And we talk a lot about the sky, the clarity of the light, the sunsets.
But we don’t talk much about what is under the surface. That figures. Mostly we can’t see what is under the surface.
The Mineral Museum at the Bureau of Geology on the campus of the New Mexico Tech addresses this matter. The museum has an amazing collection, observed my wife on our recent Socorro visit. She toured the museum while I dug into the uranium mine files of economic geologist Virginia McLemore. The collection is outrageous, she said, (in a positive sense) with the color and the shapes. Overwhelmed by the dazzle, the requirement for viewing became focusing on each item.
The 5,000 mineral specimens (rocks to most of us) in the main gallery come from all over the world. Mostly they represent New Mexico. Around 20,000 people visit each year. The total collection is more than 19,000, including 89 meteorites, says curator Kelsey McNamara, whose job places her in charge of the collections. McNamara’s other title is, X-ray Diffraction Lab manager.
The home of the bureau and the museum is Headen Center, a three-story, 85,000-square-foot building opened in 2015. Across the atrium from the museum is the publications store, a money-making operation endangering the wallet of any map lover.
While putting the bureau building where it is might have been a function of a vacant site, the building also is the first Tech building seen by visitors coming to the campus.
Giving any one specimen the title of “most wonderful” is certainly a judgment call, but a 30-pound piece of Smithsonite from the Kelly Mine near Magdalena would be in the running for its size, color and history.
The mineral world apparently likes Smithsonite. The website minfind.com displays 19 specimens and lists 19 dealers in the United States and Europe. Smithsonite, the internet tells us, is named for James Smithson, founder of the Smithsonian Institution. It is zinc, which is found in the body and used in making brass.
The Smithsonite specimen, discovered around 1890, was donated to the museum in 1928 after a fire destroyed the initial collection, McNamara says.
Finding minerals isn’t a walk in the park, nor is it a stroll across a mesa and discovering a rock. People who are devoted to discovering minerals work at it.
Donations are a principle source of new specimens for the museum. So is money. Cash donations allow museum staff to attend events such as the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which bills itself modestly as “the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world.” The show, handy to Socorro, offers opportunities to enhance the museum collection.
For other collections, at San Juan College in Farmington, the School of Energy has the Sherman Dugan Museum of Geology, an excellent collection of fossils and minerals. The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque offers the Silver Family Geology Museum, which is part of the Department of Planetary and Earth Sciences.
In the museum world, attendance is perhaps the big non-financial measure of success. That 20,000 or so annually find the Mineral Museum from I-25 testifies both to the quality of the museum and the broader interest in minerals. More so when it happens without support from outlets such as the state Department of Cultural Affairs website, which touts the state historic sites, some of which attract far fewer people.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1-28-19
Utah works, makes babies, grows and prospers while people continue to leave New Mexico
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
During 2018 people still left New Mexico for other states. The lost years continued.
The 5,851 movers to other states represented 0.28 percent of the state’s July 2017 population of 2,093,395. From outside the country, 2,341 people came to the state during the year.
New Mexico gained 2,033 people in the year between July 2017 and July 2018. The increase was just under one tenth of one percent.
We ranked 40th in percentage population change for year, meaning, odd as it may seem, eleven states did worse. The bottom three, those with the greatest percentage losses, were Hawaii, West Virginia, and Illinois.
The one-year percentage population change rank for our neighbors was: Nevada, 1st; Idaho, 2nd; Utah, 3rd; Arizona, 4th; and Colorado, 7th.
The Bureau of the Census released the 2018 population numbers last month.
Those 2,033 people brought the state’s population to 2,095,428 in July 2018, good for 36th place nationally. Idaho, with 1.75 million people, 84 percent of New Mexico’s population, increased its population by 35,000. That is 17 times our population increase.
Ducking back to the April 2010 census, New Mexico’s population grew by 36,248 through July 2018. The “natural increase” part of the growth accounted for 70,950 people, more, you quickly notice, than the total growth. The total natural increase came from 213,795 births (natural increase) minus 142,845 deaths (natural decrease).
Migration—people moving to or from New Mexico—explains the difference. The movers to New Mexico from other countries totaled 27,423. These international migrants partly offset the 62,051 departing to other states during the eight years. Migration netted 34,628 departures.
Utah gets cheers these days for leading the nation in labor force growth, an annual average of 1.9 percent from the census through January 2018. One explanation is that Utah grows its own with a nation-leading 15.7 live births per 1,000 population in 2017. The family boosting Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah’s dominant faith, influences baby production. And once grown, the kids stay, reports Salt Lake City’s Deseret News.
The good things happening with young people attract other young people. All in all, a virtuous circle.
Birthrate isn’t everything. Utahans work; 67.2 percent of the state’s population was employed in 2017. Utah is not the national leader in working. That is oil booming North Dakota at 69.6 percent. New Mexico’s 53.9 percent of the population employed leads only Mississippi and West Virginia.
There is size, too. Size brings economic activity. From Ogden on the north to Provo and Orem on the south, the greater Salt Lake City population is just over 1.9 million.
Add Santa Fe to Albuquerque and throw in Los Alamos and get not quite 1.1 million.
New Mexico’s eight-year population performance kept us at 36th in the state population ranks. We will fall unless things change, which maybe they are. We were 39th in the rate of population growth and 42nd in the amount of population increase.
Catron County’s population distinction is being one of two counties in the nation with residents’ median age over 60. Median means half are over the figure, that is, older than 60, and half are under. The median age for those 3,518 Catron residents was 61 in 2017. These folks are the second oldest bunch of county residents in the nation. Sierra County, 2017 population 11,116 and median age 56.6, is the state’s second oldest, followed by Harding, population 692 and median age, 57.3
The much more populous Roosevelt County is the state’s youngest, median age 30.5, population 18,847. McKinley is second youngest. The median age is 32, population 72,564.
Our counties are getting older. I suspect that’s because the young people continue to leave.
© 2019 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1-14-19
Maybe a zone of twilight connects New Mexicans
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
A new year, a new governor and a 60-day session of the Legislature offer an opportunity to consider the New Mexico soul. What connects us?
Decades ago, New Mexico offered adventure for Christine Chandler and Lisa Shin, both then living in the east. They settled in Los Alamos and, much later, ran last year against one another for state representative. Chandler, a Democrat, won soundly and on January 15 starts another adventure, the 2019 session of the Legislature.
New Mexico’s beauty generated comments from friends of a Boston publishing executive last year when he announced his move to Albuquerque.
Movie actors and producers adsorb the beauty and the associated spirituality. The comments, gushing almost, in a Film Office publication, include, “it was beautiful… sunsets…beautiful and magical things…rugged natural landscapes…a super magical place.”
There is gushing right back. Last year the spending in the Las Cruces area of $1.3 million by Clint Eastwood generated stories across the state. In truth, $1.3 million is the annual sales of a fairly small (but bigger than micro) business that stays put and generates jobs while Clint spent and left. But, hey, wow, a movie star.
Geography offers another framework and a challenge. A recently retired Albuquerque businessman (and sometime poet) has trouble “coming to grips” with the state because of the vast differences—Farmington, Albuquerque-Santa Fe, Hobbs.
More land and geographic confusion come from the Socorro magma body, a volcanic pool 12 miles under Socorro. Magma is liquid rock. According to the winter 2019 issue of “New Mexico Earth Matters,” a publication of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology, the body is pancake shaped with the rock at about 2,000 degrees. It is the world’s second largest magma body.
Not so far from Socorro, about 100 miles west near Quemado, Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field is a land artwork that goes the other way from the magma body. It connects with the sky via 400 stainless steel poles mounted in a one-mile by one-kilometer grid. “Land art” is the term of art, so to speak, for “art that is made directly in the landscape, sculpting the land itself into earthworks or making structures in the landscape,” according to Britain’s Tate museum.
While drafting this column, I happened to watch a 1961 episode of “The Twilight Zone” on Netflix. We are stepping through the Twilight Zone archive one by one. This was a New Mexico show. Coincidence? Hmm… “No coincidences” is the rule for television crime fighters. The show, “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” begins in 1847 with a three-wagon migrant party lost in New Mexico. They are out of water, starving and the leader’s son is dying.
The leader heads, alone, across the nearest hill, confident of finding water. Instead he finds 1961 with power lines, an asphalt road, a very scary semi-truck, and a restaurant with people, skeptical compassion and penicillin. He returns across the hill to 1847, and gives the drug to his son who recovers and lives a long life.
A connection between land and spirit (or sky, you pick) comes from Zuni fetishes. Andrea Petersen told the story in the Wall Street Journal in 2016. In 1990, Dr. Marc Weissbluth, a Chicago pediatrician and author, was overworked, sleep deprived, neglecting his family. His wife was especially unhappy. He happened into a store selling Native American handicrafts and bought a bear fetish.
“It just felt right in my hand,” he told Petersen. It also felt right in his life. He bought more fetishes and made changes. Over time his situation improved.
A twilight zone of surface land, the underground, sky, spirit, science, and the space between may be what connects New Mexicans
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12-31-18
Tax experts hear about job growth figures and issue before taxation and revenue department
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Our vaunted sunsets fade quickly but return the next day. The 2 percent plus year-over-year job growth figures that cheered us all since June will prove just as ephemeral. The difference is that the job growth wasn’t there in the first place. Early February will bring numbers more accurate than the cheery 2 percent.
These revisions, done annually using more precise statistical methods, will bring annual job growth to around 1.8 percent – not extraordinary but still very good, said Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Mitchell spoke Dec. 19 during the annual Legislative Outlook Conference of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute in Albuquerque.
David Abbey, director of the Legislative Finance Committee, began his presentation by listing concerns of Moody’s Investor Service, as the firm downgraded the rating of the state’s general obligation bonds twice in the past two years. Moody’s downgrades did the state a favor, Abbey said. The actions got the attention of people across state government and will drive the coming session.
These worries are: fiscal stability, revenue and general fund reserves; educational outcomes from early childhood to higher education; Medicaid growth financially crowding out other responsibilities; state employee pay and pension solvency; and tax reform to address high gross receipts rates and the narrowing base.
Abbey closed with another list, this one of troubles at the Taxation and Revenue Department. The list was remarkable in that such problems seldom get explicit treatment from the podium to a crowd of 100 or so experts in the particular topic. The items, which are hidden behind the scenes but affect everyone, are:
Tax refund protest totals are up to $320 million. Claims remain in process. Smaller items being taken to court with a staff lawyer cost more than the claim.
Audit and compliance issues, especially with regard to tax withholding for oil and gas personnel working in New Mexico and living in another state such as Texas.
Workers compensation tax collections.
The telecommunications relay service surcharge, a tax on intrastate calls.
Vacancies, especially among mid-level senior staff. Is the work getting done?
“When you hear about (the problems) it makes you wonder what else is out there,” Abbey said in conclusion.
License plates, a Taxation and Revenue responsibility, are one of those “what else” items; my license plate is deteriorating.
Movie production subsidies under the Film Production Tax Credit continue to be approved by Taxation and Revenue and the New Mexico Film Office. But the $50 million annual subsidy cap and continuing approvals mean that the amount the state owes movie companies will approach $300 million. A quick analysis, Abbey said, suggests that the state gets a twenty cent return on each dollar of subsidy. Maybe the state should just write a check directly to the production staff.
The Lujan Grisham administration appears to be doubling down on movie production by hiring Alicia Keyes, city of Albuquerque film production liaison, as economic development department secretary.
The 2019 legislative session might be the time—“the perfect time,” Senate majority leader Peter Wirth, suspects—to do something serious about the state’s tax system. “We’ve become more and more reliant on gross receipts,” said the Santa Fe Democrat, due to increased oil and gas production.
Several major tax bills are being developed. The coming proposal from Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who chairs the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, seeks dependable revenue, removing “unneeded nickel and dime” taxes, increasing the gas tax and cutting the gross receipts tax rate.
Overall, said Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, “good tax policy is not partisan; bad tax policy is partisan.”
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12-17-18
County income growth: No pattern, little performance
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Follow the money, it is said.
For money around the state, specifically per capita personal income, it was $39,811 in 2017, the latest available, putting us 48th nationally, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, and at 77 percent of the national per capita income of $51,640. The one-year increase was 2.3 percent, not quite two-thirds of the 3.6 percent national income growth.
New Mexicans started the 2007-to-2017 decade ranked 46th among state incomes. National income grew 2.6 percent during the decade. We locked in at 2.3 percent.
These few numbers nicely summarize our lost decade. No wonder people are leaving.
Wait a minute, some might say. Job growth is way up the past few months. The amount of “new money” available for legislative largess starting in January is well north of $1 billion, and just recently humongous new oil pools were unveiled in the Permian Basin, which is partly in Lea and Eddy Counties.
My response: It ain’t there ‘til it’s there. In any case, assuming legislative prudence, large one-off demands should consume much of the new money—replenishing the state reserve fund, pension funds, roads. The mineral production spending goes to Lea and Eddy residents in the form of wages and local gross receipts taxes and is redistributed to the rest of us after a cut for state government. Royalties build the Permanent Fund, are invested and generate income to pay for state government. (Santa Fe can’t function on art alone.)
The newest consensus forecast, unveiled Dec. 10, sees “recurring” (as opposed to one-time) revenue as $7.6 billion for FY 20, the budget year ending June 30, 2020, with a $157 million revenue drop the next year, FY 21. “Consensus” refers to four agencies having agreed on the numbers. The exciting number is the $1.1 billion of “new money” estimated for FY 20, that being projected revenue less current year spending.
The cyclical nature of oil and gas income overlays everything, as Lea and Eddy residents well know.
In 2016 the Eddy and Lea income growth was respectively 32nd and 33rd among our 33 counties, last in other words. During 2016 the per capita income of Eddy County residents dropped 7 percent and was down 7.3 percent in Lea County. The next year, 2017, as production grew, Lea County was second with 8.5 percent income growth to $37,419. Eddy was fifth at $48,280 income after a 3.4 percent increase. Even with the better year, neither county reclaimed the 2015 income level.
The usual suspects—Union, De Baca, Harding, and Mora—resumed their place at the bottom of income performance, all showing dropping income during 2017. Income in Luna and Torrance counties also dropped during 2017.
For top and bottom income rank in 2017, no overall pattern emerges. One element does stand out. Three of the six counties in the north central urban area dominate. This area combines the Albuquerque and Santa Fe metro areas plus Los Alamos. Los Alamos continues to lead with a per capita income just over $65,000. Santa Fe is second at $55,500, with Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) fifth at $42,100.
The income in Los Alamos doesn’t count in considering the other 32 counties because of the concentration of well-paid scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Metro Albuquerque also has two of six lowest income counties, Valencia, 28th with $32,200, and Torrance, 30th with $29,200. The others in the bottom six are Catron, 29th; Luna, 31st; Cibola, 32nd; and McKinley, 33rd with $26, 837, less than half of Santa Fe.
The middle counties are Hidalgo, Quay and Taos.
So, for income in New Mexico’s counties, it’s no pattern and no performance.
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12-3-18
Lower oil prices good for world, less so for New Mexico
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
The solvency discussion is over for New Mexico’s state government.
That discussion drove policy decisions in 2009 with the effects of the national Great Recession and again in 2014 when oil prices collapsed. Around state government, it was ugly. In case anyone has forgotten, talking about solvency means figuring out how to not run out of money.
Financial discussions today offer two themes.
Locally the tale is about the money, an estimated $1.5 billion in “new money” (the difference between this year’s spending and next year’s revenue) for the 2019-2020 budget year. The money is coming from vastly increased oil and gas production, especially from the Permian Basin in Lea and Eddy counties. National publications tell a second Permian Basin story, one decorated with caution.
The newest economic forecast from the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research lends a warm glow to all the money. “We are in the strongest position we’ve been in since 2008,” BBER director Jeff Mitchell told a conference last month. Year-over-year wage job gains of 1.3 percent, or 10,500 jobs, are seen for this year and 2019 with annual job growth of 1.2 percent through 2023.
BBER’s forecast sees oil in the $50 to $80/bbl range.
But wait. As of this writing, oil was at $50.42/bbl, a drop of around one-third since early October. A Nov. 26 Wall Street Journal story said lower oil prices would be good for the national economy; lower oil prices trickle through to you and me in all sorts of happy ways. That $50/bbl is the bottom of BBER’s range.
A hint of Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham’s approach came Thanksgiving week with the report that she is considering dumping the order to consolidate state government personnel functions because the plan would lead to more job vacancies. If this happens it would mean that the new administration is reverting to the old New Mexico public ethic of state government being the first and last resort for employment. It would also be a blow to productivity in government, a conceptual oxymoron anyway. The point of such consolidation is to do the same with less.
The state may be getting lucky about some serious matters. Our two big pension funds are way in the hole with regard to the amount of money expected over time and the amount owed to retirees. The Educational Retirement Board plans to ask for $248.3 million as a one-time injection. The other fund is the Public Employees Retirement Association.
The reserve account, the hedge against falling revenue, is up some. But allocating a major piece to reserves—maybe half—of the $1.5 billion would comfort the financial worriers. Addressing the perpetual nine-figure difference between highway construction and maintenance desires and available money would be nice.
A thorough look—the headline was “Peering inside the Permian—appeared recently in The Economist, the British news and culture magazine.
The production growth has been “growth for growth’s sake,” a function of low interest rates and the high productivity and short well life of shale oil wells; 80 per cent of a well’s productivity happens with the first two years. Oil company investors have noticed the shortage of profit from the drilling frenzy.
Transmission capacity is strained, though some relief is expected in a year when new pipelines open. Storage capacity is also strained. New employees are hard to find.
Companies are responding to the challenges (think profit) by buying one another and seeking improved production techniques.
Lower oil prices are good for the world by squeezing Iran, Russia and Venezuela. For New Mexico, though, not so much. With zero ability to affect prices, we’re stuck with going with the flow. Cautiously, I hope.
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11-19-18
Albuquerque downtown development is private, organic, flexible
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
An Albuquerque focus is one of New Mexico’s policy dangers. The Albuquerque-versus-the-rest-of-the-state mentality is a continuing black hole for ideas, some even useful. An Albuquerque commercial developer observed recently that, though a New Mexico native, he had never been to Hobbs until his company entered that market a couple of years ago.
Sometimes, though, it is useful to pay attention to Albuquerque for entertainment and productive lessons.
For decades Albuquerque has been on the downtown urban guru circuit. These consultants and professors with consulting sidelines roll in with grand ideas. In the 1980s it was Chris Leinberger whose wisdom spun into downtown live-work spaces, some, I suspect, still vacant. Later, Richard Florida pitched his “creative class” vision.
Over time Albuquerque powers that be have junketed to Florida, Denver and Portland, Oregon, to gawk at the latest fad.
In late October, Bruce Katz came to Albuquerque’s NAIOP commercial real estate group to tout “new localism and opportunity zones.” Katz has a book and a consultancy, New Localism Advisors (thenewlocalism.com). In a newsletter, Katz spoke well of the disastrous and destructive (my opinion) ART project, which he toured with former Albuquerque R.J. Berry, ART creator. At NAIOP, Berry introduced Katz, calling him “a friend.” (Consider the source and beware.)
In his talk to NAIOP, Katz cited Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Copenhagen, Denmark, exemplars of implementing his ideas. Note the metro population of these cities starts at two million and two have NFL franchises, elements not found in New Mexico. Maybe Bill Richardson was right about seeking that NFL franchise.
Ten days past Katz, Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O’Toole, a transportation and growth policy expert, came to the Americans for Prosperity office in Albuquerque. O’Toole’s consultancy is the Thoreau Institute.
O’Toole spent his extra day in New Mexico riding the Rail Runner to Santa Fe. His blog post provides the best description of the operation I’ve seen. Nice pictures, too. And numbers. All New Mexicans can see what their money is subsidizing. See: https://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=15317#more-15317.
While downtown Albuquerque boasts government-driven innovation incubator buildings and the Lobo Rainforest Building at Innovate ABQ, just to the north the Glorieta Station development is emerging.
The important idea here is that the development is not some urban guru’s latest big idea. And it’s all private, including the financing. While generally planned, the development will be organic, ad hoc and flexible with initiative coming from companies and developers responding to ideas and needs.
The main man is Ed Garcia of Albuquerque who leads the family-owned Garcia Automotive Group that in just over 50 years has grown to include 15 dealerships spread among Albuquerque, Santa Fe and El Paso with brands from Land Rover to Toyota.
Just recently Xpansiv Data Systems of San Francisco slipped its Albuquerque branch into the project. Xpansiv offers a commodity-intelligence platform (whatever that is). The Garcia neon sign collection is next door. Another tenant is The Roaster Coffee Shop. In between, whiskey barrels are arrayed around the office of the old Joe G. Maloof and Co.
Garcia doesn’t offer the sheets of promotional material typically accompanying real estate projects. Rather, he sketches the concept. From there the market—people and companies with needs—can find solutions within the development.
Garcia’s vision sees Glorieta Station as a mix of culture and commerce, where everything comes together.
There is some irony that Garcia has absorbed the former Maloof office, which held the Maloofs’ Coors beer distributorship. Garcia also owns First Plaza in downtown, which was home to Albuquerque’s First National Bank, once owned by the Maloofs.
Because Glorieta Station is different, and because it is private, it might just work. And that would benefit all New Mexico.
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11-5-18
State population growth dismal, but seven counties gain
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
In a previous column, I discussed those leaving New Mexico, namely the 25- to- 44-year olds who should provide the core of a productive society. This time the topic is the number staying. The numbers, for July 1, 2017, come from the Census Bureau. New numbers are due next month.
The state’s overall population situation remains dismal; we added only 28,891 people from the April 2010 census to 2017. That’s a 1.4 percent increase. Contrast that with Arizona, up by 624,253 (yes, from a larger base), a 9.8 percent increase. Booming Colorado’s population grew 11.5 percent during the period. Those two neighbors can’t match New Mexico’s “accomplishment” of declining population in 2014 and 2015. It has been a lost decade.
Ten New Mexico counties gained population during the period. Only Sandoval and Santa Fe counties gained every year. Bernalillo and Los Alamos counties lost population during one year by amounts so tiny as to not really count. These four are the north central urban area. Doña Ana is also urban with the second largest county population in 2017 (215,579), with Las Cruces and part of the larger Júarez-El Paso combo.
Urban wins. The message isn’t good for the rest of the state.
Amid the gloom a few glimmers appear.
While just five counties showed positive domestic migration for the seven-year period, for the 2016-2017 year it was a dozen. (Domestic migration refers to people moving into or out of an area.) The seven with the migration turnaround are Catron, Lincoln, Los Alamos, Guadalupe, Torrance, Union, and Valencia.
Additionally, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties attracted substantially more migrants than the seven-year average. For the year, Bernalillo County lost 1,860 domestic migrants, equal to its seven year average.
For other counties, different things are happening.
The Chaves County population grew by 148 between 2012 and 2013 and has drifted down since. Chaves’ 2017 population is 64,866. It was 65,645 for the 2010 Census.
Lea and McKinley counties are close in the alphabet and in population with Lea showing 68,759 in 2017 and McKinley at 72,564. Both gained population during the 2010 to 2017 period. They peaked in 2015 and dropped the next two years.
The performance was quite different. Lea County added 4,032 people, or 6.2 percent, during the seven years. McKinley added 1,076 for a 1.5 percent increase. With one exception, the population factors were about the same. The exception was domestic migration. While Lea County lost 990 people to other parts of the U.S., 3,581 people left McKinley County. That’s three and a half times more than the Lea departures.
Incomes add to the story. For 2016 (the latest income figures available) the per capita income in Lea County was $33,371 (22nd in the state) and $25,688 in McKinley (33rd in the state).
To state the obvious, the economies of the two counties are quite different and people respond accordingly, seeking betterment, just as people respond to the economies of Arizona, Colorado and Texas being quite different from New Mexico.
Our vast spaces show in the population numbers. We have seven counties with fewer than 5,000 people—Catron, De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Hidalgo, Mora, and Union. Five counties are in the northeast with two in the southwest. Their total 2017 population was 23,580. Together they lost 7.8 percent of their population in seven years.
The group spreads across 15.1 million acres, 19 percent of the state’s 77.9 million acres. The spread is thin; the seven-county population is 1.2 percent of the state’s 2.09 million.
All in all, we go back to the economic truism: incentives matter, incentives such as higher income and decent education for the kids..
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10-22-18
The young, educated and energetic leaving for Colorado, Texas, Arizona
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
People move from New Mexico in greater numbers than people move here. We have known this for years.
Speculation about the leavers has long centered on young families. The speculation makes sense. People trying to build a middle class life, something that includes educating the children, are poorly served by economies that are stagnant to declining.
Now we can say that the speculation is true, mostly, thanks to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which serves northern New Mexico. The information comes in the KC Fed’s Rocky Mountain Economist newsletter, which discusses migration trends in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Natural population growth—births minus deaths—is the part of population change responding to longer term trends. Migration—in and out of an area—shows shorter term ups and downs. A family quits a job, calls U-Haul and is gone.
People chose New Mexico in the early 1990s, the Fed said, with about 22,000 net migrants in the peak year, 1994. The flow reversed as the 2001 recession approached and reversed again throughout most of the 2000s.
“That flow has been negative (meaning more people leaving than coming) since 2012 as New Mexico’s economic recovery from the 2007 recession lagged national gains (no kidding), leading many individuals to seek employment opportunities in other states.”
Between 2010 and 2017, six (just six!) New Mexico counties count more people coming than leaving.
The Farmington metro area (San Juan County) leads all counties in the three states in the leaver category with about 9,600 departures.
Colorado is the most popular destination for people moving from New Mexico, followed by Texas and Arizona. These states are handy, prosperous and even booming. Oregon and North Carolina are the fourth and fifth place destinations.
Well, who are these guys?
The short answer: “In New Mexico, individuals age 25 to 44 and who earned between $50,000 and $100,000 accounted for a large share of outflows,” the Fed said. These are the people providing the core of our society. They are building businesses and careers, having children, buying houses and paying taxes.
New Mexico’s vaunted and clichéd claim of having more PhD degree holders per capita may still be true; I haven’t heard it recently. The per capita situation may have to do with our relatively small population of 2.1 million, i.e., fewer capitas, and institutions such as national laboratories that require PhDs. The hunch comes because people with some college or a degree, even, left the state while people who failed to finish high school came to the state. The effect lowers the state’s overall education level. The Fed notes that New Mexico has a “relatively large share of those with less than a high school degree.”
Of people who moved to New Mexico before 2010, just over 20 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree and about 20 percent lacked the high school diploma.
By scary contrast nearly all of the people moving to Colorado between 2010 and 2016 had at least finished high school and about half had that college degree or more. This is not “Colorado envy.” Just facts. It seems a virtuous circle. The Colorado jobs attract people with energy and education, especially from California, who grow in the jobs and create new companies which hire people with energy and education and on and on. New Mexico goes the other way, a vicious circle.
Interest in change simmers. Dale Armstrong’s Viante New Mexico (viantenm.org) wants to educate people. The recently announced New Mexicans for Economic Prosperity has no website, a dozen unidentified members, a single staffer recently employed in the governor’s office, and, from this columnist’s perspective, no credibility.
© 2018 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10-8-18
Three-mile-long trains may (someday) enhance New Mexico train world
By Harold Morgan
New Mexico Progress
Here’s a challenge. Visualize three miles of anything as one single thing. It’s hard. Runners, for example, commonly cover more than three miles but are conscious only of the much smaller area that is visible. The question arises because of a recent report that railroads are thinking about running trains three miles long.
What would a three-mile-long train be, besides really, really long?
On Interstate 25 there is a rest stop north of Lemitar. North of the rest stop, a sign says, “Rest Stop Three Miles.”
This is the Walking Sands rest area at mile marker 167, which stands out among the state’s rest areas for its distinctive wood structures. A sand dune area used to be located immediately west of the area, but the dunes seem to have walked away.
Imagine a single train covering the distance from Walking Sands back to the sign. Such a train might have as many as 200 cars, many carrying two shipping containers. And locomotives at both ends. It might need five minutes to pass a given point.
Other than Rail Runner, which sports colorful paint and is visible because it takes passengers through Albuquerque and Santa Fe, railroads get little attention in the state. Our tale here omits Amtrak, which has separate issues. Do remember, though, that about 4,400 Boy Scouts ride Amtrak to Raton for their time at the Philmont Scout Ranch. Out of sight, out of mind.
Two of what are called Class I railroads cross the state: the Union Pacific Corporation (UP.com) and the BNSF Railway Company (BNSF.com). BNSF is North America’s largest freight rail network. UP is second.
Company fact sheets indicate the New Mexico impact.
UP operates 618 miles of track. One segment runs along Interstate 10 from Arizona to El Paso. The other angles from El Paso to Santa Rosa, Tucumcari and the Texas Panhandle. UP’s 485 New Mexico employees were paid $46.6 million in 2017.
The UP’s New Mexico jewel is the 2,200-acre intermodal ramp and refueling station a few miles from Santa Teresa. The $470 million facility opened in 2014. It has, UP says, become a catalyst for additional economic development, including warehouses, trucking and logistical distribution centers. The facility is 11.5 miles long (visualize that!), a mile wide, with 100 miles of rail sitting on 136,000 ties and 218,000 tons of concrete used in construction.
At this time, UP has no plans for three-mile-long trains, Jeff DeGraff, UP director of corporate relations and media, said in an email.
BNSF paid its 1,389 New Mexico employees $119.7 million in 2017. The company owns 1,125 route miles of track and has trackage rights for another 515 miles. That track runs along I-40 in the western third of the state and then drops south to go through Belen and along U.S. 60 to Clovis. BNSF also runs along I-25 from El Paso to Raton, skipping Santa Fe for a digression through Lamy.
BNSF has rail yards in Albuquerque, Belen, Gallup and Clovis.
Interstate 40 in the Grants-Gallup area offers continuous wonderful trains viewing. The road is above the track. The route is busy with 92 trains per day, BNSF said, that average 8,000 feet long. BNSF has tested longer trains on the route.
Train viewing will gain with the (planned) 2019 reopening of the 40-room La Castañeda hotel, just off the tracks in Las Vegas. The 1,400-acre Central New Mexico Rail Park, now under construction in Los Lunas, is another addition to our rail world anticipated for 2019.
Trains are glorious. They also move much stuff—coal, grain, lumber, cars, asphalt and steel—and provide New Mexicans jobs and a way of life.