During the past few years, New Mexico, like most other states, has fallen victim to the national recession. Our Legislature has made many difficult choices to ensure that we pass a balanced budget, as is constitutionally required.
In doing so, I have tried to protect the high-priority needs of our most vulnerable citizens: educational opportunities for youth, and adequate services for senior citizens, veterans and those with developmental disabilities and mental health conditions. Programs designed to serve these citizens are severely underfunded, not because of a lack of support but because of a lack of money in the state’s treasury.
Through my experience in developing a budget, I understand the importance of every dollar that is spent on these citizens.
That is why I was disappointed, but not surprised, at comments made by an NBA superstar Kobe Bryant during a recent interview aired on ESPN Sport Center. As Kobe reflected on his team’s underachieving 2010-2011 season, including being swept in a Western Conference semifinal series, Kobe didn’t mince words on his disappointment.
“It was a wasted year of my life,” he said in the interview. Kobe endured a “wasted” year that made him $25 million richer. To most, and certainly all individuals I know, this would not be considered a wasted year by any stretch of the imagination, regardless of the disappointment.
Perhaps if he understood what $25 million could bring to many New Mexican children who deal with developmental disabilities, Kobe wouldn’t be so flippant about what a “waste” of time the past year was for him. Perhaps if he put his situation in the context of what other people endure, he might better appreciate what $25 million means to many of our families: for each $1 million he makes, 22 New Mexico children could be taken off the developmental disabilities waiting list and begin receiving desperately needed services; with $25 million, 224 children could begin receiving services.
The invaluable lessons of gratitude
Throughout the current recession, the Legislature has grappled with how to meet the increased demand for vital services with decreased revenue. We have been forced to make difficult choices and cuts that affect those on the waiting list, many of whom will remain on the waiting list. Unfortunately, our most vulnerable citizens will not receive the funding and protection they deserve.
Although they do not receive the millions of dollars that Kobe receives, it is doubtful that children with Down’s syndrome, autism, or cerebral palsy will ever feel they “wasted” a year of their lives. While they have never experienced the pressures or joys of an NBA playoff game, it appears that Kobe has never experienced the invaluable lessons of gratitude these children teach us as they work at our local grocery stores or restaurants.
For these children, each day is a gift and a blessing, regardless of the many challenges they face. They offer us an opportunity to quietly reflect on the gifts we are given, but tend to take for granted. If Kobe would take advantage of that opportunity, he might have reason to celebrate, even without winning a championship.
Morales, a Democrat, represents District 28 in the New Mexico Senate.