Here is Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez’s response to Gov. Susana Martinez’s 2016 State of the State Address. These are Sanchez’s remarks as prepared for delivery. They appear to be somewhat different than the speech he actually delivered, according to media coverage of the speech.
COMMENTARY: Even in this year’s shortened legislative session, I believe that we can accomplish significant legislation to improve the lives of our fellow New Mexicans — if the Administration and the House majority are willing to meet us part of the way, and build from a spirit of cooperation.
It is important that we succeed. More than ever before, New Mexico today needs us to invest boldly in the future of our children. We want them to have all the skills needed to thrive in the competitive economy of tomorrow. For Democrats here, this is heart and soul. This is what we seek to achieve.
It has been five years. Too many of the Administration’s policies have left New Mexicans struggling, and businesses are hurting. Compare us with the rest of the nation:
- the highest rate of children living in poverty today, and 49th in children’s well-being;
- the vast majority of 3 and 4 year olds are not enrolled in pre-school;
- math and reading test scores are low, and dropout rates are high;
- we are at the bottom for job growth;
- we have low incomes and wages, and high income inequality;
Democrats have a very different vision for New Mexico. Real investment in children and in education, the kind that can be a true ‘game-changer’; living wage jobs for workers; a level playing field for small businesses to help them grow and to prosper; vigilant protection of our clean air and water, and a plan of action that creates thousands of new jobs right away: 73,000 jobs in the next 5 years. That is a plan we rolled out last year that we call our “Ready to Work” jobs package. We keep New Mexico’s best and brightest here by creating opportunity in New Mexico.
We have hard work to do to get New Mexico headed in the right direction. I am an optimist, and I believe we can get there. The future can hold great promise for the people of New Mexico.
In the next 30 days, we in the Senate will not allow partisan interests to stand in the way of progress for the people. We will act on bills, and we will work in the best interests of the citizens of the state.
We strongly disagree with the policies of the state Public Education Department, the PED. There is far too much testing of students using standardized assessments. It deadens their learning experience and drives out good teachers. The children of New Mexico are not bar-codes. There is nothing standardized about them.
Instead, Democrats’ priority is to make sure that parents, teachers and administrators can work with business leaders, to develop curriculum that prepares our students for the challenges of tomorrow’s jobs.
PED’s centerpiece, the teacher evaluation, is deeply flawed. It has been thrown out by a judge, at least for now.
When it comes to third graders, we say let’s identify those children who are struggling with reading early on – before they reach third grade – and get all of them one-on-one tutoring. That is a better way. We are better off spending money on tutoring, special help, and smaller class sizes.
Democrats are committed to getting a good education for our children. All students, regardless of their zip code, deserve the support and tools to learn. We must ensure that every student has caring, qualified, and committed teachers.
We insist on accountability. But we also insist that we reward and respect our teachers, not demonize them. Strengthen the Lottery Scholarship program so more of our students can attend college. And give a pay raise to all our teachers – not just the new ones – and the support staff as well, who keep our schools running every day, so that we can keep them here in New Mexico.
As Democrats, we believe that all children can learn, and each of us has a duty to help them do it. Let’s take a close look now and analyze all the education programs currently funded from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. The ones that demonstrate positive, tangible results are worthy of even more support, and we will fight for that.
Our state needs good jobs, and more jobs. Families need help. This is urgent. We must take steps now to attract new jobs, and expand existing businesses in, our state. We believe that we can do that by investing in infrastructure like our roads, highways, broadband internet, worker training and education. In the private sector, who will invest in New Mexico? How will we attract them? These are the big questions. This is where we must focus.
We have taken successful approaches before:
- Tax credits for the film industry that have helped local businesses, like restaurants, hotels, and stores and given workers high paying jobs in their communities;
- Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) passed in 1993 that allows municipalities and counties to plan and support regional economic development projects. To date, 83 communities have adopted ordinances to participate in the program.
Let there be no doubt about these bills: they were all sponsored and supported by Democrats.
We’ve also sponsored legislation for our military personnel and veterans. While we can never truly repay them for their service to our country, we are committed to helping them and their families. During the past two regular Sessions, Democrats sponsored and supported bills that allow veterans’ family members to receive in-state tuition at any New Mexico institution; that prohibit child custody arrangements from modification while a parent is deployed; and that fund court programs geared toward veterans living with post-traumatic stress, brain injuries and other war-related issues. During the upcoming Session, I’m sponsoring a bill that would set-aside a portion of JTIP funds for veterans. This will help them successfully re-integrate into civilian life.
Democrats also support the original small business owners- the farmers and ranchers who have kept food on our tables and put money into our economy since before statehood. They truly are the unsung heroes of our state.
In the past several years, our farmers and ranchers have faced devastating drought, foreign competition, and worker shortages. Some of those worker shortages can be attributed to the Administration’s favorite wedge issue and fund-raising tactic that it has used for the past 5 years: driver’s licenses for undocumented workers. As you know, even Republican farmers and ranchers want their workers to have driver’s licenses.
Let’s be honest: the corporate welfare policies that cut taxes on the wealthy and the corporations have failed us. Rather than create good jobs, the Administration’s approach has resulted in our state having the lowest job growth in the country. I might also add, it triggered local tax hikes in counties and cities across the state, now starved for public services.
So-called ‘Right to Work’ legislation is not the answer, either. It is simply more corporate welfare that gives big corporations too much power to cut families’ wages and benefits, and worsen the workplace environment. If this idea is such a great job creator, as its backers promise here, then why did the state of Wisconsin shed 10,000 existing jobs after it adopted the same law being pushed in New Mexico? That is the last thing we need.
Democrats are committed to putting the driver’s license issue behind us this year, once and for all. This too is urgent. The federal government has spoken, and has told New Mexico to comply with the tougher standards of REAL ID, or face the consequences. Last year, Senate Democrats joined with Senate Republicans to pass a bill to accomplish that. If the Administration and House Republicans will just work with us a little, we can get a bipartisan compromise that fixes the problem; that keeps the roads safe, and ensures that law enforcement has the tools it needs.
We agree that New Mexico is probably in need of some criminal justice reform. In the coming session, where we can agree, we will make progress. I am concerned, however, that the agenda is too one-sided. While we are at it, we should also be attentive to the need to reduce the mass incarceration of non-violent offenders, reform of some discriminatory drug laws, resources for successful juvenile intervention and diversion programs, and reform of amenable offenders who will return to society through the power of families, faith-based groups and communities.
Democrats are committed to passing a balanced budget that is fiscally responsible, that protects New Mexico’s priorities – like education, job creation, and law enforcement – without making life harder on working families and children.
I am hopeful that we can begin the revitalization of our state and our communities in this session. This is New Mexico, not Washington, D.C. We can cooperate in a bipartisan way, and put the people ahead of politics. As the debates begin on all these questions, Democrats will continue to offer real answers in the days ahead.
Sanchez, a Democrat, is the majority leader in the New Mexico Senate.