Commentary: We’ve been here before.
During the 2008 Great Recession, New Mexico lawmakers largely mishandled the loss of revenue by enforcing harmful budget cuts to our schools, our hospitals and other public services. The result: cuts that hurt families and businesses and slowed our economic recovery to the point New Mexico was one of the last states to recover.
Now New Mexico legislators enter a special session in response to the unprecedented health and economic crisis inflicted by a global pandemic. All of this while a powerful moment in history plays out nationwide as demands for racial equity continue to grow. Right now good governance and thoughtful yet decisive leadership can make all the difference.
Part of good governance is ensuring that our electoral systems remain accessible to all voters. New Mexicans made it clear with an unprecedented number voting by mail in the June primary election that they value their ability to vote safely. Our legislature should grant the secretary of state emergency powers through the November election to adjust vote-by-mail deadlines and make sure mail and in-person voting are accessible, easy and safe. The Legislature should also allow ballots to be sent to voters automatically while maintaining the number of in-person polling locations so rural and tribal communities are not disenfranchised.
The pandemic has also provided more evidence that the inequities many communities of color have faced for centuries are a matter of life and death. The higher COVID-19 death rates for people of color is the result of hundreds of years of policies and systems that were designed to advantage white people and disadvantage people of color.
It’s time to chart a new path forward. We cannot go back to the old economy – one in which hard-working families and communities of color were left out. Let’s create an economy that works for everyone, guided by our shared values of fairness and equity.
Like many states, New Mexico is taking in significantly less revenue than we anticipated when the FY21 budget was crafted. Adding to the pain of a recession is our state’s reliance on the boom-or-bust oil and gas industry. It is time to work to diversify our economy to ensure that we have enough revenue from stable sources and move away from the boom-and-bust cycles of the extractive industry.
This over-reliance on oil and gas is the product of scarcity-minded budgets and ineffective tax breaks. Tax cuts for the very rich and for out-of-state corporations failed to produce the jobs we were promised. Instead, they are draining our budget of the funds we need to invest in education, health care and clean energy – all of which actually do create jobs and make our state a place where people and businesses want to be and can thrive.
And while a special legislative session is necessary to deal with immediate budget shortfalls, our lawmakers should proceed with conviction. We must push for flexibility for the federal COVID funds and use our reserves as intended to shore up the budget – keeping it as intact as possible – through January 2021.
Lawmakers made great strides toward investing in a stronger New Mexico during the 2019 and 2020 regular legislative sessions. We mustn’t sacrifice those gains. We must double down on the policies that have been proven to work – including investments in our schools, our hospitals, and green energy – and cast aside those that have not, including tax cuts for the well-connected that fail to produce jobs.
Oriana Sandoval is the executive director of the Center for Civic Policy. Camilla Feibelman is the executive director of Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter.