COMMENTARY: While the rest of the nation and the region’s states have seen their economic prospects brighten, New Mexico has fallen further behind, losing jobs, economic activity, tax revenue and even population. It is worth noting that our revenue woes are not due solely to the fall in oil and gas prices.
Neighboring Texas and Colorado are doing well economically, and they too depend on oil revenues. Even before the price of oil and gas plummeted, the economy of our state was stagnant. The collapse of other revenues beyond oil and gas has been a major cause of our budget problems. These revenues are determined by the amount of economic activity and jobs in the private sector, and they have plummeted.
The economic policies of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration over the past five years have put New Mexico in a downward spiral.
Gov. Martinez promised that her policies would create jobs. She has even claimed recently that New Mexico’s economy is doing well. In her State of the State just a few weeks ago, she painted a rosy, if unrealistic, picture of our economy, stating that “the fundamentals are changing. Companies are taking note. Our recruitment pipeline is filling up.”
If only it were true.
That is why I said at the time that she must be living in a parallel universe. The bitter truth is that New Mexico today is at the bottom for job growth in the nation. New Mexico has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 6.8 percent.
The reason is that, for the last five years, too many of the Administration’s policies were all about handing out corporate welfare; too few focused on families’ bottom lines. Those policies left New Mexicans struggling and small businesses hurting.
We have the same number of jobs in the private sector now as we had in 2008: 640,000 jobs. All that time, and no job growth. We have the highest rate of children living in poverty. We have relatively low incomes and wages, and high income inequality.
Look at a few of the high-profile private sector jobs losses that have touched every part of the state recently: Sprint closed in Rio Rancho, wiping out 400 jobs. UTC Aerospace closed in Albuquerque, costing 150 jobs. Caterpillar will leave Santa Fe, taking 50 jobs. Coke Bottling will leave Portales, eliminating 50 jobs. Mining operations in Silver City will close, and there go 200 jobs. And now CNM is cutting 100 positions.
It was not long ago that Gov. Martinez announced $1 million worth of state infrastructure investments in Moriarty to create more than 200 new aviation- and aerospace-related jobs after Google purchased Titan Aerospace. But Google later picked up and moved operations to California – a strong union state – and took those jobs with them.
When she boasts that New Mexico has enjoyed 40 months of year-over-year job growth, the growth rate was a pittance, 0.4 percent, while the national average was almost five times the rate at 1.9 percent.
Albuquerque Sunport passenger traffic continues its seven-year slide, down 31 percent from its peak of nearly seven million passengers in 2008. That’s another indicator of how much economic activity New Mexico has lost.
And when the governor wrongly accused 15 behavioral health providers of fraud, and forced them out of business, that cost us 1,600 jobs.
Unfortunately the recent session of the Legislature was a missed opportunity in regards to jobs, but not for lack of trying. Senate Democrats pushed hard for action to create jobs for New Mexicans, and to kick-start economic activity with a host of bills. But the governor ruled them out, and tried to distract attention away from the dismal economic performance by pressing only crime, all the time.
The messages for bills the governor sent to the Legislature did not support a single measure to create jobs – unless you are corrections officer or state police officer.
Her so-called right-to-work proposal, which didn’t get far, wouldn’t create any jobs either. When Wisconsin passed right to work, it lost 10,000 private sector jobs in the following 12 months.
The governor’s legislation simply pushed more of the failed corporate welfare policies that have put New Mexico in its current bind – policies that also drained the state of revenues. Senate Democrats offered ample job-creating legislation, such as the Solar Market Development Tax Credit to support renewable energy jobs across our sun-drenched state. We have a very different vision for New Mexico.
But it now seems clear that all of that must wait until we get a new governor — one who will take a new approach to our economic challenges.
Michael Sanchez, a Democrat from Belen, is the majority leader in the New Mexico Senate.