Rio Grande Foundation

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Rio Grande Foundation
Rio Grande Foundation logo.png
FoundersHal Stratton and Harry Messenheimer
TypePublic Policy Think Tank
  • 5500 Benson Ct. NW
    Albuquerque, NM 87120
Paul Gessing
Revenue: $275,575
Expenses: $220,734
(FYE December 2014)[1]

The Rio Grande Foundation is an economic policy think tank in Albuquerque, New Mexico affiliated with the U.S. nationwide State Policy Network. It was founded in 2000 by Hal Stratton, a former state representative and Attorney General of New Mexico, and Harry Messenheimer, an economist then at George Mason University. Paul Gessing became president in 2006.[2]

The group is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

The Foundation maintains a website and a blog called Errors of Enchantment, and regularly contributes opinion pieces to local newspapers, as well as publishing reports on state economic policy. The Foundation's president, Paul Gessing, has been featured on local talk shows and radio programs to discuss economic issues.

Policy goals[edit]

The Rio Grande Foundation supports tax cuts and reduced government spending[3][4] and school choice, specifically by means of tax credits or school vouchers;[5][6][7] It opposes the use of eminent domain and supports expansive private-property rights.


Government transparency[edit]

The Wall Street Journal ran an article on January 19, 2009, outlining several allegations of state corruption in New Mexico and pointing to the state's lack of comprehensive ethics laws as a possible cause.[8] On January 29, The Wall Street Journal published a letter by Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing, suggesting that government transparency would improve New Mexico's political situation. Gessing pointed out that the legislature had failed to follow through with any of the proposed ethics reforms of recent years. He suggested that the legislature begin Webcasting its sessions to give citizens the opportunity to monitor their government's actions.[9]

The New Mexico Watchdog was initially funded by the Rio Grande Foundation, and subsequently became affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

Cabinet expansion[edit]

In 2009, the Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing criticized the creation of a Department of Motor Vehicles and Hispanic Affairs Department in New Mexico, an idea proposed in two bills introduced in the New Mexico legislature. In an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican, Gessing said, "the last thing we need is to hire more highly-paid cabinet-level state bureaucrats."[10]

Albuquerque streetcar[edit]

The Rio Grande Foundation "made a big splash" in its fight against a streetcar project in Albuquerque; several members of the group spoke in opposition to the streetcar at the City Council, and the Foundation supported an anti-streecar group called Stop Wasting Albuquerque Taxes (SWAT).[11]

Rail Runner[edit]

The foundation has been consistently opposed to the New Mexico Rail Runner Express on fiscal grounds.[12][13][14] Transportation policy expert and frequent critic of light rail Randal O'Toole spoke on the subject of public transit at a 2010 event sponsored by the Rio Grande Foundation.[15] In a 2011 report, the Foundation noted that early projected costs were far below its actual costs and suggesting that the subsidies it receives could produce many more passenger-miles if spent on other transportation projects; for these and other reasons including low daily ridership (an estimated 3,700 as of the second quarter of 2013[16]), the report advocated the termination of the Rail Runner line.[17]

Eminent domain[edit]

The Foundation opposes eminent domain, and in 2006, Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing wrote an op-ed published in the Albuquerque Journal that criticized Governor Bill Richardson for vetoing a bill to restrict the use of eminent domain.[18]


The Rio Grande Foundation advocates school choice.[19] The Foundation has written frequently about perceived shortcomings in New Mexico's Lottery Scholarship Program.[20] The Foundation published report in 2012 and 2013 on the transparency and executive compensation at New Mexico's institutes of higher education.[21][22]

Film subsidies[edit]

The Rio Grande Foundation has been critical of New Mexico's film tax credit program. Gessing argues that despite the visible gains of the policy, it places a greater tax burden on the rest of the state's taxpayers and it not a net gain.[23] It co-hosted a debate with the Motion Picture Association of New Mexico on January 1, 2011,[24] and was critical of a 2009 report rating the subsidy policy favorably.[25][26] Before the 2011 New Mexico Legislative Session the Foundation proposed a cap of $30 million on the industry credit; the credit was ultimately capped at $50 million.

Freedom Index[edit]

The Rio Grande Foundation’s website hosts its Freedom Index, a legislative tracking tool that allows visitors to see the Foundation’s numerical ratings and written analyses of selected bills in the New Mexico Legislature.[27] Legislators are not scored directly but receive scores based on their votes on bills that have been rated. The Freedom Index began in 2013.


  1. ^ "Quickview data". GuideStar. See also "Charity Rating". Charity Navigator.
  2. ^ Rio Grande Foundation accomplishments
  3. ^ Taxpayer Protection Act
  4. ^ SB513: Taxpayer Protection Act
  5. ^ Children are the losers as education productivity lags overall economy
  6. ^ Education Tax Credits and How they May Work in New Mexico
  7. ^ SB462: Certain Scholarship Donations Tax Credit
  8. ^ New Mexico's Political Wild West
  9. ^ Land of Enchantment's Culture Hurts Transparency
  10. ^ Proposed agency add-ons hit sore spot, Santa Fe New Mexican (February 24, 2009).
  11. ^ Jim Scarantino, Free Market, Free Thinking: A Conversation with Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation, Weekly Alibi, Vol. 16., No. 11 (March 15–21, 2007).
  12. ^ "Another Fine Mess in the Making: New Mexico's Proposed Commuter Rail System," Jan. 14, 2006
  13. ^ "Red Ink Express: Rising Losses and Low Ridership Show Rail Runner is an Increasingly Bad Deal for Taxpayers," Aug. 22, 2009
  14. ^ "Passenger Rail not Worth Big Subsidies it Requires," Dec. 2, 2013
  15. ^ Randal O'Toole at Albuquerque Museum
  16. ^ American Public Transportation Association Transit Ridership Report, Aug. 15, 2003
  17. ^ "Ten Reasons to Shut the Rail Runner Down Now," Aug. 16, 2011
  18. ^ Condemnation Bill Veto Is Shocking
  19. ^ "Paul Gessing discusses 'School Choice Week' in New Mexico"
  20. ^ "Lottery Scholarship Program should not pay full costs," Jan. 21, 2014
  21. ^ "How Transparent Are New Mexico’s Institutes of Higher Education?", June 4, 2012
  22. ^ "Who's the Best Compensated of them All?", Dec. 9, 2013
  23. ^ "Our Take on the Film Industry's Subsidies," Jan. 1, 2011
  24. ^ "Lights, camera...argue!", Jan. 1, 2011
  25. ^ "A Modern Spaghetti Western: Shooting Holes in the Ernst & Young Study of Film Industry Subsidies," Apr. 26, 2009
  26. ^ "Film Industry Study Has Many Holes," Apr. 10, 2009
  27. ^ Freedom Index

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°08′11″N 106°42′08″W / 35.1364°N 106.7022°W / 35.1364; -106.7022