August 22, 2016

As New Mexico struggles, where is Susana Martinez?

A recent report on the state of New Mexico’s economy confirms what has been apparent to even casual observers for quite some time: we are still in a deep recession going on eight years, and decent-paying jobs are hard to come by. The Legislative Council Service issued the results of an economic analysis showing that we have one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation.

Cisco McSorley is a Democratic State Senator from Albuquerque. He represents Senate District 17.

State Sen. Cisco McSorley

State Sen. Cisco McSorley

At 6.4 percent, it is one of the highest jobless rates in the nation. The decline in oil production and the absence of any other new economic activity has held New Mexico at the bottom.

New Mexico is losing good-paying, middle class jobs. They are being replaced by entry-level positions, with which it is impossible to raise a family.

Examples of this trend can be found in private sector job losses that have been piling up over the past months at major employers like Sprint, UTC Aerospace, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola Bottling and at oil, gas and mining operations. For the first time since the 1930s there is not one active gas well drilling operating in San Juan County.

Semiconductor giant Intel announced 12,000 worldwide layoffs. Even the modest decline in official unemployment since last year in New Mexico could be quickly reversed if Intel hands out pink slips to employees at its Rio Rancho manufacturing facility. These are high-paying, middle class jobs that will be extremely difficult to replace.

According to the Legislative Finance report, “the economy struggles to find traction today.” It points out that young and better educated New Mexicans are leaving our zero-growth employment state for better-paying and more available jobs in surrounding states.

Colorado and Texas, despite being oil and gas states like us, nonetheless are enjoying an economic resurgence. Of course, these young people are key to our future well-being, since employers offering good paying jobs would need such workers if they are ever to locate here.

Along with jobs, tax revenues to fund K-12 classrooms, institutions of higher education and the operations of state government are falling, too, the report shows. Recurring general fund collections for the current year are considerably lower than last year. Oil and gas revenues are down, but so are gross receipts tax revenues: through January of 2016 they declined by 9 percent, or $111 million.

Where has Governor Susana Martinez been during this jobs crisis? AWOL.

When the state’s economy is facing a crisis of these proportions, leadership and teamwork are needed to try to fix it. But throughout the current jobs slump, the Governor has said almost nothing substantive, nor indicated that she is even engaging with Intel, for just one example, on the issue of more unwanted job losses.

I can confirm that she has barely reached out at legislative committees to discuss any cooperative solutions to the looming problem.

In fact, she has barely been in the state at all since we learned of this news.

We have challenges aplenty. Instead of dealing with them, the Governor has been traveling around the country non-stop, rubbing elbows with CEOs and elites from finance and industry.

She has been to national Republican dinners and cocktail parties in New York City with Donald Trump, to South Carolina and to ‘the sumptuous Palm Beach, Florida mansion’ belonging to David Koch to sup with top donors. Has she been on these jet-setting missions to ask the oligarchs of the top 1% to bring jobs to struggling New Mexicans?

Does anyone remember the grief the current Governor gave to Bill Richardson every time he left the state, as if it were an impeachable offense? Yet this Governor has far exceeded any amount of travel he ever took.

Gov. Martinez’s policies and her lack of engagement are destroying our economy and our economic viability. She has created a true structural deficit in our state budget. It bleeds massive red ink now and far into the foreseeable future. She claimed loudly to have fixed the state budget shortly after she took office six years ago. It was actually the Legislature that did so, but regardless, she has certainly been responsible for the budget problems since then. With none of the promised economic gains, Gov. Martinez has caused our current economic crisis.

If that were not enough, we hold the distinction of possessing the highest rate of child poverty in the nation. Our teachers, law enforcement and corrections officers all are paid much less than those in other states nearby. New Mexico median wages are some of the lowest. And our roads and public infrastructure are in dire need of repair, yet we lack the funds to do so.

The Senate tried to address the jobs crisis during the last legislative session with a slew of positive measures that would have brought reasonably quick change. But the Governor was not interested.

New Mexico needs an executive who will focus on creating jobs more than ever, but we have had no effective leadership or ideas for jobs or economic improvement from this Governor. Her ideas for job creation have been a failure. Families and communities are paying the price, as indicated by every objective measure.

At least the future may look bright for the Governor personally. She may have landed herself a lucrative job while hobnobbing with the top 1% elites after she leaves office in 16 months. But in the meantime New Mexicans suffer.