New Mexico is going to Hell in a handbag, or rather in a sealed public purse. While the rest of America has been pulling out of the economic catastrophe triggered by the Wall Street “rotten mortgage” scandal of 2007-8-and-9, New Mexico continues to lag.
The Land of Enchantment has, by most socio-economic measures, been in steady decline throughout Gov. Susana Martinez’ now six and a half years in office.
Of course, the crash in global energy prices has helped drag New Mexico, a big oil, gas and coal producing state, downward, but so have political choices by the Governor and the Legislature. They are the ones who have let declining revenues pinch the state budget in all the wrong places.
Take public education, for example. Well, actually, Governor Susan Martinez has taken the entire budget for higher education hostage, vetoing it in its entirety, simply to increase her leverage in negotiations over the state budget in the upcoming $53,000 a day Legislative Special Session.
She did the same to the budget for the state’s legislative branch, vetoing it to the last penny, and thereby turning the traditional and sacred checks and balances of New Mexico governance into a chaos of chokeholds and bombast.
It’s not just the Legislative branch the state’s chief executive is starving. The State Court system is so under-funded, the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court has said, it cannot fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities. But I digress. We were talking about the Governor’s protect-the-rich; pillage-the-poor politics of education.
The governor’s big veto of the budget for higher education may have distracted attention from much smaller vetos and budget-strangulations, like those that killed off a program to reinforce public education for Native American children in districts notably failing to teach them as effectively as White, Hispanic and African-American kids, and is radically reducing student access to a successful summer school project for poor kids in kindergarten through third grade.
Highlighting the painful lack of educational progress for Native Americans, and an almost comparable lag in many low-income, Hispanic-majority school districts is one of the few accomplishments of the expensive and educationally distracting standardized school testing the Governor and her Public Education Department love.
The punitive actions against obviously necessary school programs for Indians and poor Hispanics strongly suggest that the only test results the State Government cares about are those which can be used, falsely, I think, to indict teachers and reduce the powers of their unions.
New Mexico’s poor educational results are usually cited by potential employers when they explain why they chose not to come here. The Governor’s self-acclaimed cuts in corporate taxes, which robbed the state treasury of $70 million last year alone, have not overcome corporate doubts about the quality of education found in the New Mexico workforce, or the quality of the schools available to children of their prospective employees and managers.
No growth without investment. Gov. Martinez’ consistent failure to invest in anything but tax breaks for her corporate citizens has produced less than nothing for her human citizens. It has produced continuous decline while every other state is at least “recovering” from the “Great Recession.”
And the education deficits that keep investors away from NM are the ones inflicted every day on the children of the state’s voters.
Milan Simonich has spent 35 years as a newspaperman, first as a reporter, and then as the editor of his hometown Pueblo, Colorado Chieftan. His career led him to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Denver Post before a chain called Texas-New Mexico Newspapers made him their Santa Fe bureau chief. Today is covers government and politics among other things for the Santa Fe daily, The New Mexican, writing a column called Ringside Seat.
Simonich’s column is in the tradition of 2 journalists he has written about recently, Richard Stockton, Founder-editor-publisher of The Santa Fe Reporter who was robbed of a Pulitzer Prize for editorial by a split decision when the Pultizer Board overrode the choice of its committee of judges; and Mike Royko, who did win a Pulitzer and defined the big city column for 3 different newspapers in Chicago.
That tradition was well-defined in the title of one of Royko’s books: I May Be Wrong; But I Doubt It.