COMMENTARY: Anyone paying attention knows New Mexicans have it tough. Our state ranks near last in unemployment and income. We are one of the worst places in the country to be a child. Our income inequality keeps growing, and many families face chronic, multi-generational poverty. More people move away from New Mexico than from any other state in the region.
We’re in a downward spiral. Like a developing country, our economy is over-reliant on fossil fuels and federal jobs, which leads to high unemployment and a low standard of living.
The resulting “brain drain” — where educated young people move elsewhere for good jobs — hurts economic development and state tax revenue, reducing resources for education and investment. This has been going on so long we can sometimes be content keeping the lights on, refusing to see we stand in quicksand.
Breaking our “Land of Mañana” cycle is possible, but it will require bold solutions and real action.
Our state permanent fund has over $14 billion. Our neighboring states of Arizona and Colorado don’t have huge funds. Over time, they have chosen to invest in their workforce, infrastructure, and research institutions rather than storing their money, giving their citizens better jobs and lives.
So let’s think about spending some of the fund to improve infrastructure, educate our youngest residents, and develop cutting-edge research institutions for clean energy and water technology. This investment will create a healthy economy, long term jobs, and a quality of life that will benefit New Mexicans for generations.
Our university bureaucracies are outdated and inefficient. Arizona and California have three administrations for all of their universities. New Mexico has 17. This increases costs and fosters conflict. For instance, recently NMSU and New Mexico Tech applied to manage Sandia National Labs. UNM made an independent proposal. The result? Both teams lost.
Additionally, community colleges administered by large universities may be sending their students to main campuses even though a technical degree could be a better option. Want a good example? I have a master’s degree from Harvard. But my girlfriend, with an associate’s degree in radiology from a community college, makes more than twice as much as I do.
Let’s consider creating one administration for our research universities (UNM, NMSU, and NM Tech), one for our regional schools (Eastern, Western, Northern, and Highlands), and one for all community colleges. The system could increase cooperation and focus each school on what it does best.
We spend $33 million per year enforcing cannabis laws. Taxing and regulating it like alcohol will take money away from drug dealers, grow local businesses, and give New Mexico a much needed $60-$70 million for education, economic development and health care. It will allow law enforcement to spend resources on on real crimes.
And recently, a study found that teen use of cannabis in Colorado has dropped since they legalized it. Over 60 percent of New Mexicans support this policy, assuring that it will happen eventually. Why not do it this year?
These aren’t the only areas needing improvement. Real tax reform, reducing the amount of money in politics, and creating better financing systems for small businesses are all things we can do. And if you have an idea, I’d love to hear it. You can contact me at Big.Ideas.NM@gmail.com.
The bottom line is that we don’t have to accept our current situation. We can do better if we constantly examine what we do right and wrong, growing the former and reducing the latter. And we must take risks as we strive to be greater.
I am willing to try if you are.
Bill McCamley, a Democrat, is the state representative for the Las Cruces-area District 33.