Friday, February 27, 2015

A Pause For A Look At New Mexico's Big Picture 

Here's my latest column for the ABQ Free Press on newsstands now. . .

If the biz community wants to make history they could support dropping various tax incentives and in exchange lower the job-inhibiting gross receipts tax. They could support the formation of a state bank to get money flowing in this capital-starved economy in which bankers shiver at the thought of loan risk. They could support the constitutional amendment to fund very early childhood programs from the state's vast Permanent Fund to begin resolving the state's social conditions crisis.

You see, many business people don't want to move here (particularly the ABQ metro) because the place is riddled with crime, poor schools and social pathologies that are portrayed as fictional on TV shows like  "Better Call Saul" and "Breaking Bad" but are far too real. You can't sell New Mexico by telling business people they will want to live in gated communities and send their kids--and those of their employees--to private schools.

Right-to-work and failing third graders are simply not serious solutions to resolve what's facing us. They are wedge issues designed to advance a political agenda--not a true reform agenda that would pull New Mexico up and begin the very demanding task of competing with the quality of life and business conditions found in states only a couple hundred miles away.

The business community--or at least its leadership--is locked in a paradigm of the past; cut taxes, give companies cash to come here and do right-to-work. Those measures are the cherry on the dessert. But what's missing here is the dessert--a secure and safe quality of live, a lower poverty rate so new residents don't feel like their stranded in a third-world outpost and a state that cares enough about its sliding standing that it begins investing in the population that is disenfranchised.

But who really wants to confront the still deepening crisis the state faces? Confronting it means taking ownership. From the Governor to the Legislature to the congressional delegation to the mainstream media, there is little discussion of how systemic, how deep and how long it is going to take New Mexico to recover not only from the recession but from decades of neglect of its social problems that are killing business.

We simply don't see the political will or the will among the populace to make the leap. It is much easier to move on, which so many do. NM now regularly ranks among the top states residents are leaving. As we've noted with shock and chagrin, this once booming Sunbelt state has actually lost population.

New Mexico has not been dealt a strong hand for this new century. Declining federal spending and what appears to be the end of the energy bull market are going to continue to keep up the pressure. This is an historic shift that has laid bare the "other economy" in which hundreds of thousands toil for low wages or withdraw from the workforce and become wards of the government. Its always been there but the federal cash and energy boom lessened its effect and visibility. Now the seismic shift has exacerbated the low-income trend and there's no hiding it.

We face a state with a lesser educated populace and an increasingly older one. Nearly ten years ago, in 2006, former GOP Governor Garrey Carruthers, now president of New Mexico State University, wrote:

Over the next 15 years, vast numbers of white workers will reach retirement age in New Mexico, while the state's Native-American and, even more so, its Hispanic population will expand dramatically. As a result, by the year 2020, 47 percent of New Mexico's working-age adults (people 25 to 64 years old) will be Latino. ... The gaps in education between New Mexico's white population and its Hispanic and Native-American populations are great enough to turn these demographic shifts into a real statewide decline.

"A statewide decline." And that's precisely what's happened (not to imply that Carruthers endorses any of our views).

This is not your granddad's boom and bust cycle. It's obvious now after so many years of downturn that short-term economic development is not in the cards for New Mexico.

Decades of sweeping problems under the rug mean we will have to spend that much more on early childhood education, workforce development, homelessness, crime prevention and substance abuse--if we care to do so.

None of this is music to the ears of fiscal conservatives. Unfortunately, the band in New Mexico has begun packing up. If we want to keep the music playing, we're going to have to pay the piper.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.  

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author
website design by limwebdesign