Say you want to run for a spot on the state Supreme Court or New Mexico Court of Appeals. How about a seat on the Public Regulation Commission? Candidates for New Mexico’s two top courts and its utility commission are eligible to apply for public dollars to finance their campaigns through the New Mexico Voter Action Act. But in 2018 those dollars won’t stretch far, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told state lawmakers Wednesday. That’s because it’s dramatically underfunded.
In her final State of the State address, Gov. Susana expressed her frustration over seven years of reform efforts that have been fought by some school districts and pointedly called out teachers’ unions and the Albuquerque Public Schools for dragging their heels to the detriment of students.
It’s been a rough few years for New Mexico’s working families. A stagnant economy has meant high unemployment, low wages and cuts to key programs that help families survive. But it appears the state’s economy and revenue picture
have begun to recover. With the current revenue outlook it is time the Legislature made New Mexico’s children and families whole. Those least able to absorb tax increases or cuts to basic services like health care should be protect-ed and prioritized in the 2018 tax and budget decisions being made.
The Rio Grande Foundation is undoubtedly among the strongest supporters of limited government in New Mexico. As a general rule we don’t support increasing government revenues as an end in itself. Our philosophy (based on reams of data and international comparison) is that resources would be better spent by individuals, not government bureaucrats and politicians. That said, the New Mexico Legislature, by not embracing tax reform during the 2018 session, seems to be willing to forego a chance to both secure upwards of $100 million for the state AND achieve an important public policy reform for New Mexico. Rather than embracing long-overdue reform of the gross receipts tax (GRT), New Mexico’s Democratic legislative leaders have clearly signaled that they are willing to let petty partisan differences with Governor Martinez stand in the way.
We all want a prosperous state, but prosperity requires investments. You can’t grow a garden without good soil, sunlight, water, and some hard work. Same with a state—you can’t have prosperity without resources, infrastructure, and a skilled workforce. But instead of following an investment strategy to prosperity, New Mexico has tried to cut its way to prosperity. You could call this the “don’t build it and let’s hope they will come anyway” strategy.
The 2020 census may seem far away to most citizens, but partisans around the country are sharpening their pencils in preparation for the redistricting process that occurs every 10 years, based on a new census. In New Mexico, a special session will be held in 2021 and legislators will draw new legislative and congressional districts. What they come up with could give Democrats, Republicans or incumbents an edge for the next 10 years and determine funding priorities and state and federal law. Common Cause believes that this process should be done by an independent, nonpartisan commission, as it is in six other states. We will be prioritizing a constitutional amendment to authorize such a system and establish more neutral, transparent criteria, including public hearings.
When I walked into the state capitol for the opening session of the New Mexico Legislature a year ago I didn’t need to stop and get a press pass. A month earlier, when the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government hired me as its new executive director, I told newsroom col-leagues I’d just won the job lottery. After working as a journalist on and off for decades, I boxed up reporter notebooks and the press passes I’d hoarded since my first assignment in 1977 and headed to the Roundhouse to defend New Mexicans’ right to know and to advocate for stronger Sunshine laws. For the first time in my professional career, I felt like I’d been dealt a winning hand. In fact, the deck was stacked in the public’s favor in 1978 when state legislators recognized each of us is entitled to almost all the “information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees.”
New Mexico’s information jack-pot 40 years later is still essential.
Students in New Mexico are nowhere near prepared to go to college, join the workforce or engage in our democracy, according to closing arguments filed this week by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and MALDEF, in a lawsuit against the state. The groups, representing families and school districts, say the state Public Education Department isn’t providing the resources needed to properly educate its students, in violation of the state Constitution. “The problem is that for years the state has starved our public schools and denied our children the educational supports and programs and services they need so that they can learn and thrive,” said Gail Evans, legal director for the Center, who said she expects a decision from District Court Judge Sarah Singleton by the spring. Lawyers for the state PED agree that New Mexico schools need to improve and concede the job of the schools is to make students college and career ready. But that’s about all they agree on.
At its most idealistic, New Mexico’s citizen legislature system draws people with expertise and passion for their fields who serve so that they can make a difference for the state and for their constituents. That’s why I’m excited to talk with state Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, about early childhood education in New Mexico. It’s the kick-off of New Mexico in Depth’s Coffee Chats series in 2018 that will explore important issues with informal talks at venues across the state. The event will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Beck’s Coffee House in Las Cruces. And we’ll be broadcasting the talk live on our Facebook page.