COMMENTARY: New Mexico faces massive budget shortfalls due to the crash in oil and gas prices. We can solve them by pulling together, but some Republican politicians want to take the easy way out. Their solution? Cut government to the bone.
When many politicians tell you government should “tighten its belt,” notice they never describe exactly what they mean. That’s because their “solutions” hurt real people. Last year’s “belt tightening” meant:
- The Veterans Department couldn’t support community housing and mental-health services for homeless veterans.
- The Health Department can’t fund basic life-skill programs for our disabled youth.
- Less money for drug treatment, mental-health services and child-abuse prevention… Drastic cuts to the front-line providers who keep our children safe.
- Universities have to raise tuition or cut educational opportunities. Either way, this hurts New Mexicans’ ability to get a better education and therefore get good jobs.
So when you hear Republicans talk about “cutting spending,” know that they want to double down on all of the above. Is all government spending as efficient as it could be? Of course not. But our state has gone beyond “belt tightening” and entered an amputation phase.
The good news is there are responsible solutions to these problems, and we should look at sensible ways of trimming expenses and raising revenues as part of a complete plan to address budget shortfalls.
For example, we can eliminate tax carve-outs that don’t work — like the one for capital gains.
In New Mexico, if you make your money from the stock market, you only pay 2.5 percent in taxes. If you actually work for a living, you pay 5 percent. So someone who inherited millions and lives off the proceeds pays only half of what a teacher, cop, or any other working person pays.
This giveaway costs the state $50 million every year, with most of the benefit for people making more than $200,000 per year.
Republicans argued that we needed this tax break to attract rich investors to New Mexico, promising their money would “trickle down” to everyone else. We’ve had this break for 10 years, and now know that it failed; it has created no new jobs and hurt our ability to teach our children.
Republicans’ “solutions” have failed, yet we have other proven solutions that work: New Mexico should look at legalizing adult use of recreational cannabis, which is working in Colorado. The result? More people have good jobs, law enforcement can focus on important things, and the state is on track to raise $144 million for education, veteran’s services, and health care.
New Mexico should follow Colorado’s lead. The millions spent enforcing marijuana laws could be used going after murderers and rapists, and money raised from the taxes would help fund education and law enforcement.
We can also inject $150 million into a comprehensive, early childhood education system by investing 1 percent from the land grant permanent fund. The benefits of funding early education are proven, greatly reducing everything from remedial intervention for K-12 students to drug addiction and incarceration rates. Furthermore, it will produce thousands of new jobs across the state.
So when you hear politicians talking about “belt tightening,” don’t be fooled. Their cuts really hurt kids, veterans, and our ability to create jobs… which is what we need in order to get out of this mess.
There is no silver bullet, but with responsible ways of raising state revenue available there is more than one way to peel an onion.