Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about tensions in his relationship. My friend eventually shrugged and said “I don’t know, that’s just the way it is,” resigning himself to accepting the tension rather than find a solution.
For a very long time, New Mexicans have been expected to just shrug our shoulders and accept the problems in our state as “that’s just the way it is.”
New Mexico is at a crossroads: with a multi-year budget crisis and some of the low rankings in child well-being (coupled with high levels of unemployment and poverty), we can stay the course of giving tax breaks to big, out-of-state corporations and fix the budget crisis by cutting services for New Mexicans, or we can take bold steps toward creating a brighter future for New Mexico.
Several bills are aiming to do just that. Raising the minimum wage, introducing statewide paid sick leave and a constitutional amendment that will allow New Mexicans to decide whether or not to invest in our most precious resource, our children, are pushing our Legislature to take action.
New Mexico sits on the second wealthiest land grant permanent fund (subsidies from oil and gas) in the nation. At $15 billion, there is an opportunity to provide access to early childhood education for families across New Mexico. While this bill has gone before the Legislature every year for the last six years, parents, early educators, child care center owners and community organizations are resilient in the movement to invest in New Mexico’s future. Countless studies have shown the benefits of children having access to early childhood education, not to mention the boost to our economy by way of increased wages for early educators and families spending less of their income on early education. In short, when families have extra income, they invest it right back into the local economy.
A constitutional amendment means that New Mexico voters will have the opportunity to vote whether or not to allow 1 percent of the land grant permanent fund to go toward making early education accessible to children across New Mexico (a constitutional amendment must be passed by both chambers but does not need the governor’s signature).
There are several bills focusing on raising the minimum wage in our state. One of the poorest states in the U.S., we can no longer afford to accept the logic of “if you give them tax breaks, the jobs will come.” The idea that cutting taxes for out-of-state corporations will benefit a state with 6.7% unemployment (nearly 2 points higher than the national average) and 20% living at or below the poverty line is not only ridiculous, it’s irresponsible. The state Legislature is tasked with not only balancing the budget but doing so in a way that will benefit the people they serve. Gutting vital programs such as Medicaid to make up for a budget shortfall will hurt New Mexicans.
While the budget is important, there are also democracy reforms to watch that ensure that more New Mexicans have access to voting (new Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver will also be instrumental in this process).
There are also those who wish to interrupt our access to voting. Look for voter ID laws and preemption bills to make their way to the Roundhouse. Preemption speaks to stopping local municipalities from passing their own minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinances. Bills like this send a message that New Mexican voters can’t be trusted to make decisions for their own cities and towns and disrupt the very democracy that we strive for in our state. Voter ID laws have not only proven to be unconstitutional in other states, they prevent people from voting and do very little to prevent voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent.
New Mexico has an opportunity to be bold and invest in the future or stay stuck in “the way it is.” Taking bold action requires each of us to be engaged in the legislative session and push and support our policy makers in taking action to create a better New Mexico.
Andrea Serrano is the Deputy Director of OLÉ, a nonprofit committed to grassroots organizing with working families in New Mexico. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of New Mexico In Depth. The column originally appeared in New Mexico In Depth’s 2017 Legislative Special Edition.