We can build the kind of New Mexico we all want – one where jobs pay a family-sustaining wage and children receive a world-class education – but only when everyone does their part. That means having a stable and equitable tax system – one that asks the most from those who have the most and raises the money we need to make the investments in education, health care, infrastructure, and more that help drive our economy. It also means ensuring that our state government has the resources necessary to support families hurting the most during times of crisis.
Thanks to crashing oil prices and overproduction here at home, it is clear that New Mexico does not have the kind of revenue stability that would help us sustain those investments in our people over the long-term. We cannot subject our educational system to the oil-price roller coaster and expect positive outcomes. What’s more, our over-reliance on revenue from oil and gas extraction has only exacerbated our inability to handle even greater economic problems – such as the pandemic and resulting recession. In fact, New Mexico is among a handful of states that are less able to “bounce back” from economic shocks, due in large part to this over-reliance on oil and gas revenue, according to a recent report.
Oil price volatility has long been a problem, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put a sharper focus on it, as well as on racial and ethnic disparities. Economic disparities are tied to health disparities, which has been made painfully clear as this pandemic has had the most devastating impact on our highest-poverty areas – which are more likely to be communities of color. Census data show that areas in New Mexico with the highest poverty levels have 10 times the COVID-19 infections as do those with the lowest poverty levels.
Our lawmakers must take decisive action to get more help to the New Mexicans most impacted by the pandemic and recession – particularly those who are left out of federal relief – and to stabilize the revenue streams that feed our state budget. This must be done by enacting another fiscal relief package, and by repealing the tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected, who are disproportionately white. None of these tax breaks brought the promised benefits to the state – no new jobs or influx of rich people – but they did make us far more reliant on oil and gas revenue, made our tax system more inequitable, and increased the staggering wealth gap between white families and families of color.
Policies like tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit those at the top are part of the systemic racism that has plagued this nation since before its inception. It is remarkable that New Mexico – a state with a majority population of people of color – has enacted policies that cement racial inequity into its own tax code. These policies help ensure that those who earn the least money pay a much larger share of their income in state and local taxes than do those who make the most money – who pay the smallest share of their income in these taxes. Now is the time to fix this inequity.
Thanks to the hard and often painful work of those who’ve brought attention to the fact that people of color are far more likely to die at the hands of police, systemic racism is now a part of our national conscience. If we cannot root out the systemic racism in our state’s own tax code now, when will we? We must all urge our legislators to repeal these racist tax policies. They must use some of the revenue that will be raised to help those who are hurting the most because of the pandemic and invest the rest in the public structures – our schools, hospitals, roads, and more – that create jobs and help our economy.
James Jimenez is the executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and YouTube. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth. This column first appeared in New Mexico In Depth’s 2021 Legislative Special Edition.