Now that the Legislature has passed a $180 million solvency package that rescues the state from a dangerous current-year budget crisis – with strong bipartisan agreement – lawmakers must turn promptly to the serious jobs crisis afflicting New Mexico.
Today, too many families and young people in our state are confronted with poor prospects of finding or getting a job. The truth is that too many residents are living in real economic distress, and anxious about the future for themselves and their children.
We continue to have the highest unemployment, now at 6.6 percent, while the rest of the nation and region prosper. Young and better-educated New Mexicans are leaving our zero-growth employment state for better-paying and more available jobs in Texas and Colorado, and elsewhere. Democrats are taking action now in this 60-day session to restore their hopes and dreams.
Our current policies are failing us and a new direction is needed. The Legislature and the executive together must act boldly, and quickly, to meet the economic challenges New Mexico faces. The lack of jobs is driving the ongoing budget crisis, too.
For Democrats in the Legislature, jobs are our No. 1 priority. We are passing legislation to spur more employment and economic activity in all areas of the state.
We are taking action to attract new jobs to, and expand existing businesses in, New Mexico. I am hopeful that, together with the House of Representatives, the Senate will pass six bills in the coming days to improve our state’s dire economic situation
We call our package of legislation The New Mexico Jobs Now! Plan. It focuses on six job-creating policies:
• Broadband expansion: We will pass legislation to significantly increase broadband access across New Mexico.
Investments in broadband can have real impact on jobs and business growth, especially in rural communities. Expanding access to broadband technology is a proven method to encourage more jobs.
• Capital outlay for needed infrastructure: Infrastructure projects create jobs in communities starting right away, when done correctly. The Senate intends to pass a $63 million package of spending projects for state-wide infrastructure repairs and improvements.
• Minimum wage increase: New Mexico suffers with some of the lowest median wages in the country. Working people really need a livable wage. Rising wages lift all boats, creating more demand for goods and services, and spurring more economic activity.
We will pass a pay raise for the lowest-paid workers. Whether it is a larger or smaller increase, a minimum wage increase is long overdue and workers have waited long enough.
• Industrial hemp research: Changes to federal law cleared the way for states and universities to cultivate hemp for research purposes. It has thousands of commercial uses, from rope to biofuels.
There is strong bipartisan support for laying the foundation for a new industry that will create thousands of jobs and bring investment.
• Closing fund reform: It is time to reform the way we distribute our Local Economic Development dollars to make them work better, not only for companies that we recruit to New Mexico, but also for our local businesses in communities throughout our state.
We will pass legislation to adjust the way LEDA dollars are used to jump-start home-grown businesses and see that more of these funds go to them so they can grow.
• Job training funds reform: We will improve the way job training funds are distributed, to grow promising small businesses better.
I believe that both Republicans and Democrats can get behind most of these measures. Bipartisanship is alive and well in the New Mexico Senate. We urge the governor to join us in a similar spirit of cooperation and support this ambitious package of bills to create thousands of new jobs and stimulate economic growth now.
The hard realities facing so many of our state’s families and residents demand resolute action from all of those who govern from the Roundhouse today.
Sen. Clemente Sanchez is Chairman of the Corporations and Transportation Committee. This column appeared in Monday’s Albuquerque Journal. His district includes a portion of Socorro County.