COMMENTARY: Budget-oriented legislative sessions don’t garner nearly the same kind of headlines as those considering a variety of hot-button issues. However, the 2016 New Mexico State Legislative Session does provide an opportunity to take a step back and consider how our state uses its resources toward eradicating poverty amongst our state’s families and children.
Yet when one looks at the governor’s legislative agenda this session, there is simply no empathy for those struggling, nor leadership on her part to move the needle on the abysmal fact that New Mexico ranks number one in poverty in the nation. Instead, her focus is largely “crime and punishment,” playing off the downstream consequences of a failed economy in our state.
As a statewide network comprised of policy change organizations focused on lifting New Mexico families out of poverty, Equal Voice New Mexico supports a legislative agenda focused on opportunities for working families and for children, our future for New Mexico. Following is a vision for a different path that our elected officials could pursue toward making a difference for those who need it most in our state.
Many localities and states are passing “fair workweek” legislation that gives workers predictable schedules and the ability to take paid sick days when they or a loved one gets sick. Raising the minimum wage, improving benefits, enforcing worker protections, and ending wage theft also continue to be concrete mechanisms of addressing income inequality and the fact that so much wealth has accumulated with the top 1 percent of our economy, versus those who work day in and day out for a living.
New Mexico’s 3-5 year olds, in the most critical brain-development stages of their lives, could benefit dramatically from quality early childhood education, and we have the resources to provide that universally. New Mexico sits on a $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund, the 2nd-largest in the nation, and investing a small percentage would have a long-term payoff in our economy.
Measures that prey on our state’s already struggling poor would be reversed, including protecting homebuyers with strong mortgage foreclosure protections and capping rates on storefront predatory lenders. We would also end corporate tax giveaways that line the pockets of well-to-do corporations but do little in terms of job creation in New Mexico. Our rural communities would see far more economic development focus.
We would see an end to bullying tactics such as blaming SNAP recipients for our economic woes and harassing immigrants with efforts to take away their driver’s licenses. Our public-safety system would focus far more on programs upstream such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation and less on locking people up and throwing away the key.
There are slightly less than two years remaining in Governor Martinez’s term. What will her legacy be?
If she continues on her current trajectory, she will go down in history as having overseen what looks to be the worst economic downturn in our state’s history and having done nothing to lift New Mexico’s working families and our children out of poverty.
One can only hope that she experiences a change of heart and takes some meaningful steps toward a policy agenda with a priority on working families and children. We have the resources and means to turn the ship around. We need our elected leadership to rise to the challenge.
Diana Maze is a member of the OLÉ Working Parents Association. She lives with her 4-year-old daughter in Albuquerque. OLÉ is a member organization of Equal Voice New Mexico, whose other member organizations include Center for Civic Policy, Native America Voters Alliance, Partnership for Community Action, Somos Un Pueblo Unido, Southwest Organizing Project and Tewa Women United.