COMMENTARY: Recently, the Las Cruces Sun News wrote an article covering the economic turmoil here in Doña Ana County. That should be of no surprise to our community because in the last decade Las Cruces has not seen much improvement.
In January of this year, Las Cruces had an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, just 0.1 percent lower than the current rate. Since 2008, it really has not been much better.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since January of 2009, Las Cruces’ unemployment rate has hovered around 7 percent, hitting as high as 8.4 percent in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. In 2015 and 2016, the Las Cruces unemployment rate hit 8.2 percent, continuing the seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty in our community.
Meanwhile, just 25 minutes south, El Paso’s unemployment rate sits at 4.6 percent, lower than both our state and local averages. So what’s the difference?
Like many people in Las Cruces, I frequently visit El Paso. I like to visit El Paso’s downtown, catch a Chihuahuas’ game, and explore many of the new businesses that are opening their doors in the city. It seems as if every time I’m there, I see a brand-new business setting up shop. A short trip down to our state line shows a boom of businesses with one thing in common: All those booming businesses are all located on the Texas side of the border.
Texas’ and El Paso’s elected leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, have embraced business and have welcomed private industry into their communities. That doesn’t happen in Las Cruces, or really anywhere in New Mexico. Instead of supporting private industry, our local leaders rely on increased activity at White Sands Missile Range, or a hiring bump from NMSU or Las Cruces Public Schools, to reduce our local unemployment rate to maybe 7 percent.
We’ve settled for this for far too long. To make it simple, our city leaders have failed us.
Since the 2008 recession, Las Cruces and Doña Ana County have seen an infestation of elected “progressive” politicians who have repeatedly taken an anti-business approach to governing. They campaigned under seemingly Democrat values that could work with businesses, then turned their backs on those that elected them. It seems pushing their progressive agenda is more important than the wellbeing of their constituents.
Exhibit A: Councilor Gil Sorg, a city councilor since 2008 who is currently up for re-election, has repeatedly stated that he’s against increased development in his district. Not-so-coincidentally, since 2008, our unemployment numbers have skyrocketed, and we don’t seem to be recovering anytime soon.
Exhibit B: Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who has been mayor for 10 years, was recently on KRWG for a radio show to talk about the “state of the city.” When asked about the effects of the minimum wage increase on local businesses, he said, “When you have to pay higher wages, one of two things are going to happen: You’re going to reduce hours, or you may eliminate positions.” So, why did Mayor Miyagishima support the wage increase if he knew it would have a negative effect on the hardworking people of Las Cruces?
Over the last decade, many of these “progressive” local officials have enacted their “progressive” policies, including the dramatic hike of our city’s minimum wage from $7.50 to what will be $10.10 an hour in the span of a few years. What is even more disturbing is that these “progressive” officials try to pull the wool over their constituents’ eyes by convincing them this will be good for them.
Instead of pandering a talking point, let’s look at the facts.
The progressive agenda in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County has worked to hike not only the minimum wage in our community, but also the gross receipts tax, or GRT. In Las Cruces, our GRT of 8.3125 percent is higher than that of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. It’s equal to Santa Fe, another progressive bastion with an unemployment rate higher than the national average. No surprise that El Paso’s sales tax is also lower than our GRT.
Maybe it’s time we elected new leaders to City Council. In this year’s election, we are seeing some great candidates putting their names on the ballot. Any candidate who pledges to work with local business owners to bring more jobs to our community should be embraced.
Our city and county do not have to accept the status quo anymore. We do not have to accept what a progressive politician tells us is a success – when merely 25 miles away you see parties from both sides of the aisle working for the betterment of their community. Las Cruces and Doña Ana County deserve better.
The City of Las Cruces has a motto, “People Helping People.” I believe we have a lot of people in our community who live by that motto. In fact, many of those people are putting their names on the ballot in this next election to help lead our community forward.
However, there are those that claim to want to “help” people but instead choose to help an agenda that drives our community into the ground. I think we can all agree that those people could start serving our community by making an effort to attract businesses to our community instead of driving them away.
Michael A. Aguilar is the executive director of the Southern New Mexico Business Alliance, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging economic growth and opportunity in our community. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.