State of the state is bleeding

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Last week Gov. Susana Martinez delivered her third State of the State address since taking office on Jan. 1, 2011. It was, almost certainly, a public relations success.

The governor was poised, smiling and gracious as she outlined her ambitions for the 2013 legislative session. It helped, too, that she surrounded herself with a bevy of smiling and poised youngsters and veterans and notables who composed an attractive picture.

And to hear the governor tell it, “The state of our state is getting stronger.”

Whereupon almost anyone who has been paying even slight attention to the situation in this enchanted land must surely have started scratching his or her head in disbelief.

The fact is that in the months leading up to the current 60-day gathering of state lawmakers in Santa Fe, virtually all recent studies into the state of New Mexico’s economy have been disappointing, if not downright depressing.

Early in January, one such study, commissioned by the Santa Fe New Mexican, found New Mexico to be “dead last” among the 50 states in job growth between Jan. 1, 2010, and this past October 2012.

Indeed, data examined in this study indicated that New Mexico is one of only “two states still showing negative jobs growth” in the 14-month period examined. In other words, between January 2010 and October 2012, New Mexico actually lost jobs.

Like it or not, if jobs and job creation are any measure of an economy that is “getting stronger,” New Mexico’s has actually gotten weaker over the past couple of years.

No less discouraging, according to the survey (which was conducted by former state economist Jerry Bradley), states neighboring New Mexico were showing signs of significant growth in jobs during this period.

It is quite impressive. Over in Texas, job growth came in at a rate of 6 percent; Oklahoma at 5.4 percent; Utah, 5.2 percent; Colorado, 4.4 percent.

And it doesn’t end there.

Even as Gov. Martinez was addressing state lawmakers, the director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Lee Reynis, was telling an economic conference in Albuquerque that recent data indicate “New Mexico Workers (are) Migrating Out of State,” as an Albuquerque Journal headline put it.

This exodus, said Reynis, “is a response to limited job opportunities here compared to elsewhere.” In short, not only are jobs disappearing, New Mexico workers are leaving.

Suffice it to say, jobs are a central concern at the 2013 Legislature.

Martinez wants a reduction in the state’s corporate tax rate from the current 7.4 percent to 4/9 percent. She calls it “leveling the playing field” by making New Mexico competitive with other states in attracting new business interested in setting up shop here.

Some legislative Democrats aren’t so sure tax cuts are the sum of it where job growth is concerned. It “takes more than tax breaks,” says Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

But at this legislative session, Republicans and Democrats alike seem to recognize that the onus is on them to bring the state out of its doldrums.

It is a tall order.

From the last half of the 20th century right up to the Great Recession of recent years, New Mexico has often weathered the vagaries of economic downturns thanks to substantial federal spending on its defense installations and scientific laboratories.

They may have been “the good old days,” but they are no more, and it leaves state political and civic leaders to display vastly better skills at “growing” New Mexico’s private sector economy than heretofore has been evident where job creation is concerned.

Nor will the state of the state start “getting stronger” until they do.