Almost weekly there is a news article about how New Mexico is at the bottom of another study regarding the wellness of our state — our economy, citizens and particularly our children.
I’ve lived here for 26 years, and in my view, our legislators and executive leadership from both parties have done little to address this state of emergency. I use the phrase “state of emergency” very intentionally. Of course, we have legislators from both parties who have worked to address some of the core challenges we face. The time has come, however, for new thinking; for us to be brave, bold and courageous; to be guided by what we know to be intrinsically the right things to do.
My proposal is quite simple. We need a Contract with New Mexico.
Once upon a time in 1994, then-Minority Whip Newt Gingrich and the Republicans, in order to take over the House, launched the Contract with America. Now I’m no fan of Newt or the era of incivility in Congress that resulted from this effort. But you’ll remember this effort was successful.
At its core, the Contract with New Mexico requires a 100 percent commitment to the philosophy and principle that the future success and prosperity of our state depends foundationally on our being exceptional in two areas — public education and economic development. Any governmental and operational reforms, as well as changes in policy, must have these two elements at their core. Let’s unite around this platform. Let’s pass and enact the following constitutional amendments and policy changes. Let’s unite to put our citizens, our economic growth and the progress of our state first.
• The New Mexico Public Education Funding and Security Act: Restore to 2008 levels (taking into account inflation) the general budget funding for K-12 public education. This act requires that the budget for public education be held harmless from any cuts even if economic conditions require cuts from the general budget.
• The Land Grant Permanent Fund Restoration and Extension Act: Restore to 5.8 percent K-12 public school funding from the Permanent Fund. Create funding for pre-K as well as birth-to-4 education to support our children being “kinder-ready” as they begin elementary school.
• The New Mexico Excellence in Teaching and Professional Development Act: Develop and enact New Mexico Higher Education Department initiatives to significantly and measurably raise the qualifications for teacher certification. Develop programs with greater rigor and relevance at the community college- and bachelor-program levels as well as enhancing statewide master’s and doctoral programs. We must demand more from our teachers and administrators while recognizing it is incumbent on our colleges and universities to provide the tools for them to be excellent.
• The Give and Receive and Give Back Act: Create scholarships and tuition assistance programs (extends to vocational trades as well) for students who are willing to commit to stay in and to serve New Mexico for a determined period of years. These jobs include but are not limited to service in health care, education, public safety, high tech and government.
• New Mexico is Open for Business Act: Develop and enact corporate tax policies to encourage companies from across the U.S. and the world to invest in New Mexico. These policies must not, however, give away the store. Partner with statewide chambers of commerce as well as the Public Education Department and local school boards to create curricula and apprenticeships to ensure that we are teaching for the jobs of the future.
• Into the Future with the New Mexico Alternative Energy Act: New Mexico has the potential to be the alternative energy leader of the United States. Think big. Create clean-energy programs. Support alternative and sustainable energy companies. Partner with our public schools and universities to build educational platforms aligned with this goal. This is guaranteed to create good jobs, well-paying jobs, and to attract more businesses to New Mexico.
• The NewMexiCare Act of 2018: Pass a single-payer health care program that will cover the basic health care needs for all New Mexicans. There is a reason this type of health care delivery is available in most every other developed nation on the planet. It works. New Mexico can pave the way here in the United States just as Saskatchewan led the way in Canada decades ago.
• The Defense of the Public Defender and Constitutional Rights Act: Sufficiently fund our courts, our Law Offices of the Public Defender and our judicial system. The right to due process is a cornerstone of our U.S. and New Mexico constitutions. Every day our justice system in New Mexico commits institutional malpractice as we try to provide defendants with their constitutional rights while not providing the funding to do so. More attorneys, more staff.
• An “A” for Ethics in New Mexico Government Act: Vigilantly support sunshine laws in government, including but not limited to better and more timely access to public information, creating and enforcing more thorough transparency procedures for all branches of government. This must extend to cities, counties and school boards. Codify in statute a State Ethics Commission with the power of subpoena and the ability to carry out and enforce penalties and fines.
• The Prison Reform for the 21st Century Act: Emphasize rehabilitation and education to reduce parolee recidivism. Eliminate over time all private prison operator contracts and bring back state-run facilities. Create incentives for counties to follow this policy as well. This will result in more jobs, better paying jobs, reduced overtime and turnover, greater facility and staff and prisoner safety, and more accountability. We must decrease the number of prisoners, which is contrary to the business plans of private prison companies. The “three strikes” philosophy on crime and punishment doesn’t work, has never worked as a tool to prevent crime and benefits no one except the private prison operators.
• Sign the Paris accord. Admit to New Mexicans that coal is dead and that clean, sustainable and renewable energy is the future. But in so doing, we must have programs to transition these workers to other jobs. And while the fossil fuel industries are part of our future, they are part of our short-term future. Don’t worry about these companies; they know full well what’s around the corner, and you can be sure they’ll adapt because it’s in their best interest to do so.
• Institute a gradual stepped increase for the statewide minimum wage.
And how on earth are we going to pay for all this?
• The Marijuana and Hemp Legalization Act: Legalize marijuana and the industrialization of commercial hemp. Experience indicates this will be a tremendous boon to state revenue. Direct some tax proceeds to curbing drug-related crimes and addiction rehabilitation efforts as well as for drug-related education.
• The Fair and Comprehensive Tax Reform Act of 2019: Progressive, not regressive. No food tax without voter approval. No unreasonable tax breaks for out-of-state corporations. Revise the tax formulas used for the natural resource extraction industries. As for our citizens, some will pay more, some will pay less. All will pay their fair share.
There is a point at which we have to pay for the services we receive or expect to receive. There is a point at which we must invest in a New Mexico that works for all New Mexicans. No one wants to pay more in taxes. But the pain is less when you are getting more for what you pay. Imagine for a moment that you were on the receiving end of NewMexiCare and that our state could invest in infrastructure and public education and economic development — lifting our state from this abyss of mediocrity. This is the Contract with New Mexico. Let’s get started.