COMMENTARY: To be safe, healthy, and financially secure is something we all want for ourselves, our children and our families. New Mexico can be a place where communities are safe, people are healthy and thriving, and everyone has the opportunity to build a secure future.
We know what it takes to create strong communities ― good schools, roads, libraries, and so forth. Unfortunately, New Mexico has not been making the public investments necessary for this to happen.
Instead, we’ve been following the long-discredited trickle-down policy of cutting taxes for the powerful few at the expense of the common good.
Worse yet, even as these tax cuts drain the pool of money needed for public investments, some lawmakers are insisting that we need to continue down this counterproductive path.
It seems that every week there is a new story in the newspaper showing the consequences of choosing tax cuts for the powerful over public investment. One of the most egregious, which has a huge impact on public safety, is the backlog of thousands of rape kits with DNA evidence that have not been processed. Each of these kits represents a violent crime, a victim, and a perpetrator. Until we process the DNA evidence, the police and district attorneys cannot find, arrest, prosecute, and convict sex offenders.
This backlog undoubtedly represents hundreds — if not thousands — of sexual predators who have not only escaped justice, but who have been free to roam our neighborhoods and communities. The Legislature recently set aside some money to address part of this backlog, but lawmakers said there wasn’t enough revenue to do them all.
Another example has serious financial consequences for families trying to make ends meet. The state’s tax department has a backlog of tax refund checks that have not been sent out because the returns have been flagged for more scrutiny. But that scrutiny is slow in coming because, apparently, the department doesn’t have the staff it needs to move these rebates along.
Then there’s the backlog of applications and renewals for the ID cards that patients need in order to purchase medical marijuana. Most patients needing medical marijuana have chronic health problems such as cancer, debilitating pain, or epilepsy. Some are veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
These patients are willing to spend their own money for a medicinal product that offers them relief, but they can only do so if they have an up-to-date ID. Department of Health officials say they have doubled the number of staff who process these cards — from four workers to eight — and even brought on three temporary workers, but this is clearly not enough. They recently extended expired ID cards, but this is just a temporary fix.
The state’s Income Support Division also suffers from a staff shortage, which had made it impossible for the department to process applications for food and health-care assistance in a timely manner. We’ve even recently learned that managers have been falsifying applications for emergency food assistance so the department looks like its meeting its deadline. This has delayed food assistance to some of the hungriest and neediest kids and families in New Mexico.
New Mexico communities cannot thrive if our state lacks the revenue it takes to make these investments ― and others ― in our well-being. The way forward is for lawmakers to repeal the tax cuts and end the practice of letting the most powerful manipulate the tax code to their benefit. It’s time to focus on what helps all New Mexicans.
James Jimenez is executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children and has worked with state and city budgets for many years.