Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote about New Mexico as a failing state with a third-world economy http://firstimpressionssecondthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/02/is-new-mexico-failed-state.html. Little has changed.
The state has few resources, which it squanders on piecemeal legislation. State budgets and other legislation address local short-term interests like construction projects or infrastructure repairs to serve their re-election, invest in “silver-bullet” boondoggles, or offer various incentives to lure companies to the state for the sake of employment in no- or low-skilled jobs.
This pro-business strategy does not ameliorate, but aggravates, the state’s continuing problems: employment, education, health, poverty, and more. The net of lower or deferred taxes—forget relaxed regulations and other benefits—for corporations, and of increased personal income taxes from additional low-wage employees is probably about zero. As part of a five-year deal for corporate benefits, Intel agreed to make fifty percent of its new annual hires New Mexicans. It failed in three of those five years (as I quip, it could hire only so many janitors and dieticians); I doubt that the costs of its incentives were offset by the taxes paid by these additional employees. Rumor has it that Intel, after reducing its workforce, is soon to leave altogether—a signal to high-tech, high-wage-paying companies that New Mexico lacks the workforce to support them. More of the same strategy will do no better.
Republican Susana Martinez has done a good job of delivering more of the same and much which is worse, like disrupted or diminished health care services. However, she differs from her predecessors of both parties, like Democrat Bill Richardson, only in degree. They operated no differently and changed nothing for the better; so it has been for decades. To be fair to the governors, the longer serving the legislators, the greater their share of responsibility for the state’s continuing failure during their tenures.
With its services continuing to deteriorate both absolutely and relatively, New Mexico do not need more stop-gap funding or legislation, ideological purity, partisan warfare, or political posturing—probably an impossibility in the state’s predominant culture. What it needs, more than anything else, is what does not exist in the state: an independent, “bi-partisan” group to do long-range planning which would identify and prioritize long-range goals and which can secure long-term commitments based on probable results.
The strategic plan would begin with the acknowledgement that the state’s workforce supports a third-world economy of no- and low-skilled workers in agriculture, mining, construction, tourism, and, for modest-income retirees, low-cost housing and sub-par health-care facilities and services—not the wave of the future economy. If the state is to be anything better than a ward of the federal government, from which it gets about $7000 per capita more coming in than going out, it must have a workforce to attract high-tech businesses doing more than locating their low-tech, low-wage call centers here.
The implication of these facts is clear: The first priority—a very long-range one of no fewer than 20 years—is education. That education must stress academic excellence in all fields, not just an emphasis on STEMH subjects (which still remain sub-par). To this end, the state must do four things: (1) Develop curriculums which are inclusive and properly structured and sequenced. The state does not have them; I suspect that it does not want them because they would provide standards of teacher competence. (2) Require Schools of Education (SOE) to ensure that graduates are competent to teach the subjects required by the curriculums. At present, by stressing methods, they scant subject-matter mastery, with the result that elementary school teachers in particular are not competent to teach the subject which they introduce. The decades-long record of poor educational results after just the first five years in school (K-4) should have prompted reforms long ago. (3) Require all prospective teachers, including non-graduates of SOEs like veterans or career-changers, to get their license from passing independently developed, administered, and graded tests. And (4) consolidate school districts and reduce the number of post-secondary educational institutions. I have heard that New Mexico has more educational institutions (K-16) per capita than any other state in the union, yet it achieves very poor results. These facts confirm my belief that educational institutions are numerous and ineffective because their fundamental purpose is employment, not education. So long as educational institutions staff themselves to provide jobs, many for the marginally qualified, neither employment nor economy will ever be any better than they are now, and the gap between New Mexico and the rest of the states will widen, aggravating its deplorable situation.
The state needs a long-range, comprehensive plan to improve its lot. Otherwise, it might as well revert either to its original status as a territory or to today’s status as a dependent or protectorate of the federal government.