COMMENTARY: Do your children, or did you, attend public school here in New Mexico? Do you drive on our roads? Shower with clean water? Are you thankful that our police and social workers protect our children from predators?
If so, you should ask the state to stop budget cuts and to start raising the revenue necessary to fund basic public services.
Here is the problem. In 2002 and 2003, taxes were cut for the well-connected in upper income brackets. In 2013, taxes were cut for out-of-state corporations. These proposals were based on outdated trickle-down economic theories, but they didn’t create any jobs.
Instead, the well-connected and corporations have just gotten richer.
These tax breaks didn’t have a huge effect on our state budget when oil and gas prices were high, but, as we all know, prices dropped and continue to drop. We rely on the oil and gas industry to contribute 35 percent of the state budget, and lower prices have left us in the red. That has real consequences for our communities. Here are some examples:
Education: Public schools’ budgets have been slashed over the past two years. It has gotten so bad that a Las Cruces High School teacher I know is currently teaching two separate classrooms of students… at the same time. Furthermore, every time we cut funds for state universities, the result is either an increase in tuition rates (UNM raised theirs 3 percent last year) or staff layoffs (NMSU cut 126 positions last year).
Jobs: In a recent listening tour conducted by Democrats around the state, business owners and economic development professionals talked about things needed to build our economy. Broadband internet access, roads, company-specific job training, and career technical education (welders, electricians, plumbers, etc.) were all mentioned over and over. The state cannot contemplate providing these services without new revenue.
Public Safety: New Mexico leads the nation for untested rape kits. That means victims of sexual assault are not able to get the justice they deserve because we don’t have the money to find out who raped them.
This problem can be solved. We can raise the revenue needed to stop further cuts and avoid another credit downgrade without hurting our ability to create good jobs. Our options include:
- Getting rid of the ineffective tax breaks for upper-income tax brackets. When the well-connected can afford to take unfair advantage of multiple loopholes, the rest of us pay.
- Asking online companies to pay the same GRT that our small, local stores do. This would close an enormous tax loophole, updating it to reflect the 21st Century economy. It also puts our own business owners on a level playing field with corporate behemoths, such as Amazon.
- Raising the motor vehicle excise tax from 3 percent to 4 percent. This is a simple across-the-board proposal that still leaves New Mexicans paying considerably less than our neighbors in Arizona and Texas, where rates are 5.6 percent and 6.25 percent, respectively.
- Impose a $90 permit tax on heavy trucks subject to the weight distance permit. This is an innovative outside-the-box proposal that would raise money without impacting New Mexico families.
- Taxing and regulating cannabis like alcohol. It is working wonderfully in other states, like Colorado, which pulled in nearly $150 million in tax revenue last year.
There are other innovative and bold options to raise new money in New Mexico, and House Democrats are working diligently on a balanced approach to making our tax system more modern, simple and fair. But if we do not change course and all get behind raising revenue for New Mexico, we will continue to face budget cuts and layoffs for schools and kids, job-creation programs, basic health-care services, cops, and social workers.
And no one should be OK with that.
Bill McCamley, a Democrat, is the state representative for the Las Cruces-area District 33.