COMMENTARY: A recent opinion piece penned by Governor Susana Martinez for the financial news network CNBC demonstrated how extremely out of touch some elected leaders can be. In fact, Martinez showed that she is living in another world.
The governor’s column boasts that under her economic leadership, New Mexico has become a version of heaven on earth for business and jobs. Among other claims that do not hold up, she takes credit for diversifying the state’s economy, cutting taxes, and boosting exports. “We’ve made a lot of progress – no doubt about it,” she wrote.
“If there are any slight problems with New Mexico’s soaring economy, they are the result of the federal government in Washington meddling in our affairs,” she seems to say.
If only it were true. The real facts of our state’s economy unfortunately are quite grim, and no attempts to whitewash them can alter it.
During the last legislative session in February, Senate Democrats warned that the state’s budget problems were far worse than was being revealed. Some of us pointed out that there is not enough money in this year’s budget to pay the state’s bills, and that reserves will be fully depleted at the rate we are going. It now appears that New Mexico may be short between $300 million to $500 million next year.
The governor sought to divert attention away from her failed economic policies by emphasizing crime issues exclusively. But crime is not our biggest challenge. It is the need for more jobs.
Look at our population problem, for example. New Mexico’s population is actually decreasing for the first time since the 1960s. For the past two years, we have experienced net out-migration of people. What state loses population?
There is a simple reason for people leaving: The New Mexico economy has not yet recovered from the Great Recession. There are 18,000 fewer jobs today than just before the recession of 2008 struck. A decade without any net job creation. So people – especially young people – are forced to leave to find jobs elsewhere in surrounding states. At least part of that – a substantial part – is the legacy of the last six years of Gov. Martinez’s “leadership” on the economy.
What job increases there are, as in the health care sector, are due mainly to the fact that more and more residents here are becoming eligible for Medicaid because of their impoverishment. On top of that, New Mexico’s population is aging rapidly, bringing additional health care costs. Leisure and hospitality have seen an uptick because of historic low gasoline prices, so more people are driving here to see the beauty of our state.
As further demonstration of her effective leadership, Gov. Martinez states as proof that “we’ve quadrupled exports to Mexico.” But New Mexico’s role was merely as a conduit for the exports from the transfer point of Santa Theresa. The goods themselves were produced in other states, where real manufacturing locations exist. If even a portion of the goods shipped to Mexico had been produced here, the employment data, and the reality for New Mexico, would far better than it is.
By every measure, New Mexico is performing poorly in terms of jobs and economic growth. All around us, however, surrounding states are showing better gains in jobs, business activity, and gross domestic product. New Mexico’s unemployment is worse than the national rate, too.
The budget crisis that now grips our state also is a symptom of the lack of growth and economic activity under the current policies. The headlines detailing it are unavoidable. New Mexico State University recently announced a $12 million deficit next year forcing it to cut budgets, staff, benefits and at least one academic program as a result. This is what happens when a state’s economy is in a downward spiral.
It is hard to find the silver lining in all this bad economic news.
The Legislature will no doubt need to convene in a special session soon to trim the FY17 budget because of falling revenues. In January when it meets, the deeper structural problems must finally be addressed.
Far from pretending that New Mexico’s economy is sailing along wonderfully, Gov. Martinez needs to shed the rose-colored glasses she is wearing, stop pretending that “Washington dysfunction” is the cause of our woes, and finally get to work with legislators to implement policies to put our state back to work.
Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, represents District 11 in the N.M. Senate.