My new home state, New Mexico is going quietly into a very bad night. The state-sized death trip is not irreversible, but every passing day of passive acceptance of the slide into coma makes recovery harder to pull off.
How are these for symptoms of decline? Demographers for years have noted the big changes in New Mexico, a disproportionate number of older people moving in, and a very disproportionate number of young people going elsewhere.
A recent report by Robert Salas in NM In Depth documented a sub-set of that story which should have been predictable, and certainly has been well-known to school officials — it is the cream of our state’s youth, the graduates of the University of New Mexico who are leading the parade out of state. And who can blame these first-class entrants into the job market, NM has the highest unemployment rate in the country.
Our Governor’s solution to this problem is austerity. The State has been saving money by unemploying teachers and staff and educating fewer university students. Budget cuts are reducing faculty slots and class offerings and institutionalizing what’s become a regular annual decline in matriculating students at both UNM and New Mexico State University. The planned shrinkage of educated people in New Mexico got a boost when the State Department of higher Education recently announced its plan to make things worse, by dropping the value of students’ state lottery scholarships from 90% of the cost of tuition to 60.
Although many fine graduates of UNM do choose to stay in state, in general, the quality of the local workforce is usually counted as a powerful negative by potential job creators. Gov. Martinez’ dissing would-be employers by dis-investing in higher education means accepting our other big negative, New Mexico is also the worst state in the country for poverty.
When I left for vacation, the Governor was showing her contempt for higher education and the Constitutional principle of the separation of powers by holding hostage the 2017 budgets for state colleges and universities, and for the operation of the State Legislature. Her vetoes had eliminated Legislative appropriations for each and they could only get their money restored in budget negotiation at during the upcoming Special Session.
Which, of course, they largely did, minus a few nips and tucks. The reputational damage to UNM, which is trying to recruit a new President and athletic director, was considered just a cost of doing political theater. And as to the spectacle of the executive branch squeezing the legislative, it’s of a piece with the executive’s starving the judiciary to the point where the then Chief Justice said Constitutional responsibilities were unfunded.
The state budget the Special Session approved contains the Governor’s promised “no new taxes,” but at the cost of millions in new obligations. To fund ongoing costs of operation, NM will use bonding authority usually used for capital items like highways or schools. And this year’s Special Session just about drained every one of the state’s rainy day funds. No new taxes, and no new investments, no new ideas, no steps to stop the bleeding.
This is a portrait of a state just laying itself down to die.
Matthew Reichbach is the editor of the NM Political Report. The former founder and editor of the NM Telegram, Matthew was also a co-founder of New Mexico FBIHOP with his brother and part of the original hirings at the groundbreaking website the New Mexico Independent. Matthew has covered events such as the Democratic National Convention and Netroots Nation and formerly published, “The Morning Word,” a daily political news summary for NM Telegram and the Santa Fe Reporter. A native New Mexican from Rio Rancho, Matthew’s family has been in New Mexico since the 1600s.