We’re 49th! A stroke of luck or the result of positive change?

The 2014 national KIDS COUNT ranking of states in child well-being just came out. There was a lot of uproar last year when, for the first time ever, New Mexico was ranked dead last—a position that had always been reserved for Mississippi. This year, Mississippi is back in 50th and we are ranked 49th. That’s good news, surely, but we have to ask ourselves … is it just a statistical fluke? Or, could our state possibly be starting to make progress in improving children’s lives? And, if this is so, can we sustain this movement?

On the plus side, with regard to policy, this year the Legislature appropriated approximately $175 million in new funding to support such programs as early childhood development services—the evidence-based NM Pre-K and home visiting programs, child care assistance, and the Family, Infant, Toddler (FIT) program—along with school-based health centers, K-12 education, programs aimed at mentoring youth and preventing dropout, and for additional child protective and foster care services. All of these programs give children a good start in life and ways to remain healthy, safe, in school, and moving forward. Since 2013, New Mexico has seen our child poverty rate drop somewhat, as well as the percentage of children whose parents lack secure employment, the teen birth rate, and the percentage of children living in families where the head of the household lacks a high school diploma.

On the other hand, like the proverbial Jack and Jill, New Mexico has tumbled down the hill of child well-being in certain areas. Since last year, more of our teens, ages 16-19, are not in school and not working. This is a major concern, as this age group is moving into adulthood, trying to find employment, starting families, or going on to college—and more of them don’t seem to be off to a good start, especially among our Hispanic, American Indian and Black youth, who make up the majority of our youth. More of our children than ever live in single-parent families, which tend to have lower household incomes and assets to provide for even their basic needs.

The effort and willpower it will take to improve our children’s health, economic status, education levels, and community environments will require a long-term, concerted, bipartisan commitment. Though we’ve perhaps taken a tiny step upward since 2013, some longer-term trends in our data indicate crucial areas we need to address soon if we’re to maintain positive momentum. For one, although fourth grade reading proficiency has improved in almost every state since 1992, it has not improved in New Mexico. In 1992, only 23 percent of our fourth graders could read proficiently; in 2013, unhappily, even fewer—21 percent—read proficiently. Given that this indicator of reading capacity is linked so strongly to children’s progress in school, graduation rates, college enrollment, and even career potential, New Mexico must address this problem as soon as possible. One factor related to this, which can be improved through policy change, is the fact that, over time, since 2005 to 2012, the percentage of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool, a cornerstone to helping prepare children for school, has remained very low (37 to 38 percent). We need to provide more of our preschoolers with access to high quality early childhood development and learning.

So, let’s return to the question at the start of this blog. All of us—policymakers, advocates, parents, employers, service providers, and others—must continue to play our parts, in collaboration and in sync with others—to bring about lasting improvement in child well-being in New Mexico. Let’s not continue to just play “ranking leapfrog” with Mississippi. Rather, let’s bring about significant, lasting change. Let’s persist in urging our policymakers to invest more state monies in our children, where we will all get the most “bang for our buck” in terms of shared prosperity in the future. Let’s evaluate our efforts to ensure we fund what works and discontinue policies that don’t. Let’s set our sights higher and continue to move upward.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2014 national KIDS COUNT Data Book is available at: http://www.aecf.org/resources/the-2014-kids-count-data-book/

The fact sheet for New Mexico is available at: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/US-NM-Kids-Count-profiles-2014.pdf

Our updated NM KIDS are COUNTing on Us policy agenda is available here: http://www.nmvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/KIDS-COUNTing-policy-agenda-June-2014-update-web.pdf

Chris Hollis is the KIDS COUNT Program Director for NM Voices for Children. Reach her at chollis@nmvoices.org.

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Let’s have a debate about the real deficit

Bloggers and politicos are trading barbs over the truthfulness of the Governor’s repeated claim that she closed the largest budget deficit in the history of the state. (Of course, by constitutional mandate the state cannot run a deficit, so there never was a deficit to close.) We can spend the summer debating the definition of a deficit or we can (and I believe we should) have the more important debate about how we want that budget to look in the future.

There is no doubt that the recession was hard on New Mexico’s budget. When the economy soured in 2008, tax revenue fell dramatically and drove New Mexico into a financial crisis. Our state leaders had three options to address the budget crisis: raise revenue, cut spending or some combination of the two. Initially they reacted by taking a somewhat balanced approach—raising some revenue and cutting some spending. As the crisis continued, the approach by state leaders evolved to one that focused exclusively on cutting spending.

Over the course of the recession our elected leaders balanced the budget by:

  • Making the fifth deepest cuts in the nation to per-pupil K-12 spending;
  • Making the deepest cuts in the nation to per-pupil higher education spending, leading to steep tuition increases and a lottery scholarship program that’s now going broke;
  • Cutting special education funding, resulting in an even greater loss of federal dollars for special ed.;
  • Cutting eligibility for child care assistance so deeply that thousands of families remain on a waiting list that is now six years old;
  • Cutting funding for outreach and enrollment for children in Medicaid, leaving fewer children enrolled in the health coverage program than three-and-a-half years ago;
  • Cutting youth tobacco prevention programs, school-based health centers, youth suicide prevention, mentoring programs, and numerous other child and family support programs; and
  • Failing to adequately staff the Child Protective Services arm of the Children, Youth and Families Department, which investigates child abuse and neglect, resulting in a “savings” of $6 million to the state budget.

This is not a complete list, but it’s enough to make evident that while New Mexico’s elected leaders balanced the budget, they did it on the backs of our children. It should come as no surprise then that it was during these last few years that our children dropped to 50th in the nation in child well-being.

What is also tragic is that lawmakers somehow made room in the budget recently for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and businesses. Those tax breaks have yet to attract new jobs.

We’re entering campaign season and the rhetoric will fly about what kind of future we want for our state. My hope is that instead of recalling the deficits of the past, we’ll see a vigorous debate about our future and about the real deficit that threatens it—our disinvestment in our children. We need to drill our candidates for governor, the state House of Representatives, the Congress, and other offices about the issues that really concern us all. We need to ask questions like:

  • Will you invest in high-quality early childhood programs like home visiting, child care and pre-K, so all of our children have access to these programs within a few short years?
  • Will you restore outreach and enrollment programs for children’s Medicaid so all of our eligible children are enrolled in health care coverage?
  • Will you end the waiting list for child care assistance in your first year in office?
  • Are you willing to raise new revenue if the plight of our children and families is at stake?
  • Will you implement an economic development plan that doesn’t rely on tax breaks for profitable corporations but, instead, invests in our workforce?

Let the debate begin!

Contact your County Clerk’s office to find out who is running to represent you in state and local races.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at bjordan@nmvoices.org.

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Running from the taxman? To what?

Changing tax rates nearly always has consequences, some of which are intended, some of which are not. If we are to believe anti-tax advocates, taxes inhibit economic development, distort our economy, and cause people to “vote with their feet” by moving to a place with lower rates. Usually these claims are mere assertions without data to support them. And in fact, most unbiased analyses show that taxes have a negligible impact on economic development and that other factors—such as an educated workforce, access to markets, and quality-of-life considerations—are more important in business location decisions. The impact that taxes have on the interstate mobility of individuals and families has been less clear. Could taxes be the reason that New Mexico has seen population growth stagnate in recent years after decades of growth? The answer is a resounding no, according to a new research report.

According to the “anti-taxists,” taxes need to be slashed to reverse population declines, and this seems to be the approach that Kansas has taken. However, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), titled State Taxes Have a Negligible Impact on Americans’ Interstate Moves, debunks the claim by anti-tax advocates that high taxes cause people to flee a state. The report concludes that “Differences in tax levels among the states had little to no effect on whether and where people move.” Interestingly, fully 69 percent of Americans still reside in the state in which they were born and only about 2 percent make interstate moves. So what causes us to decide to move to another state?

line graph showing decline in interstate relocation

Just as with economic development, other factors seem to be more important. Not surprisingly, it’s jobs—either new, transferred or lost—and family issues that a vast majority cite as the reasons for moving across state lines, according to the report’s author Michael Mazerov. Notably, evidence also shows that people are almost as likely to move to high-tax states as low-tax states. This is clearly not consistent with the policy recommendations espoused by the anti-tax advocates. So what gives?

Those who constantly cry for tax cuts seem not to comprehend that communities with well-paying jobs with great schools, decent streets, strong public safety, cultural amenities, and parks are what draws residents and business. Working to establish an appropriate balance between taxes and these other factors that make a community a great place to live is much more productive work for public officials than fixating on tax cuts.

The state of Kansas is a great illustration of the folly of basing economic development strategy and resident retention on tax cuts. Since Kansas slashed their personal income taxes, their courts have ruled that the state is not adequately funding their public schools, and now bond rating agencies have warned investors to be careful about investing in bonds issued by the state.

Just like Kansas, we are now facing lawsuits on the funding for our public schools. And just like Kansas we have been making poor decisions about taxes, such as the misguided and unnecessary corporate income tax cuts of 2013 and the annual erosion of our gross receipts tax revenue through the granting of special tax breaks. And, just like Kansas, our population growth has stopped.

So what are we to conclude from this comparison with Kansas? Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. got it right when he said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” I also believe—and evidence backs me up—that we can’t tax-cut our way to prosperity. What we really we need is sustained investment in people, transportation, and water management to change the direction of our state not more tax cuts.

James Jimenez is Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy Integration at NM Voices for Children. Reach him at jjimenez@nmvoices.org.

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Yet another missed opportunity for our kids

Since New Mexico dropped to 50th in the nation in child well-being almost a year ago, little if anything has been done to turn things around for our kids. Now comes news of yet another lost opportunity for improving outcomes for our young people.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just released a new report on state ObamaCare enrollment through the health insurance exchanges or marketplaces. The report shows a dramatic failure on the part of New Mexico to sign up young people. Of all the states, New Mexico was tied for 5th worst in the percentage (14 percent) of sign-ups who were under age 26, and tied for 4th worst for the percentage (29 percent) of sign-ups who were under age 35. Just 7 percent of those who signed up on the New Mexico exchange were under the age of 18.

This wouldn’t be so bad if New Mexico hadn’t started out with one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation. States with high rates of uninsurance had the most to gain from ObamaCare. In fact, 79 percent of the New Mexicans who did sign up for coverage on the exchange received tax credits to help cover the cost of their premiums. That’s a lot of federal money that will flow into New Mexico to help keep people healthy. A lot more money would be flowing in had we worked to maximize enrollment. The fact that we didn’t use this opportunity to close the health insurance gap for our kids is just one more example of a lack of commitment by state government to ensuring that children have health care coverage.

Another example: a few years ago—well before the ObamaCare insurance exchanges opened—New Mexico cut nearly all of its funding for outreach to enroll more children in Medicaid. As a result, Medicaid enrollment of children has been flat, despite the fact that an estimated 40,000 New Mexico children are eligible but not enrolled. Efforts by advocates to restore the outreach funding failed and the uninsured rate among children remained one of the worst in the nation.

In the last year, the federal government gave the state millions of dollars to conduct outreach to enroll the most vulnerable New Mexicans in ObamaCare. These are the people who are most likely to have never dealt with an insurance company before, and least likely to have access to a computer and have the necessary computer and/or literacy skills to navigate the enrollment process. Advocates and service providers recommended that the state use the outreach money to hire people who would go into communities and actually assist these folks with the enrollment process. Instead, an out-of-state P.R. company was hired to create an ad campaign. Clearly the ads weren’t as effective as they could have been.

For a state that is 50th in child well-being, one would think that our leaders would have grabbed this extraordinary opportunity to use those millions of dollars of federal outreach money in the most effective way possible in order to improve health outcomes for kids. Sadly, as this new report shows, it was just another missed opportunity.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at bjordan@nmvoices.org.

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No Pell Grants for Preschoolers

From time to time, legislators (and the governor) get obsessed with an issue—so much so, that they all work together to move forward with a solution to the same problem. Lately their obsession has been the loss of revenue to the state’s lottery scholarship that’s endangering the whole program. There were at least 10 bills in the 2013 legislative session and another 17 bills introduced in this year’s session that dealt with the lottery scholarship.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG fan of the lottery scholarship and other forms of financial help for college kids and their parents. The lottery scholarship is a great program. And it was (and still is) in trouble and in need of a fix. I’m glad they obsessed over it, studied it, seriously debated it, and came up with a solution—at least for the next couple of years.

But I wish that legislators would show the same level of obsession—the same serious study and debate—over how to pay for the high cost of high-quality child care.

Why?

Because high-quality child care costs more than college.

You read that right. A nationwide study has confirmed what I said in a blog almost a year ago—that quality child care in New Mexico costs more than college tuition.

graphic showing high cost of child care

There are many other reasons legislators should obsess over the high cost of child care: because of our high poverty rates, more of our kids need it and fewer working parents can afford it; because preschoolers don’t get Pell Grants, can’t take out a student loan, and don’t qualify for work-study so their parents are stuck with the cost upfront; and because, arguably, high-quality child care is more important to a person’s development than college. It literally builds the foundation for learning that will make college attendance possible later—but only if it’s a high-quality program. And that costs more.

In New Mexico, a high school graduate who meets the minimal academic requirements can get a lottery scholarship no matter what their parents make. To get child care assistance, our youngest kids have to live near the poverty level.* Even then, these most vulnerable children are not likely to receive the high quality of care they need to give them the best shot at success in school and life. We simply do not invest enough resources to ensure that all children receive safe child care, let alone high-quality care.

In others words, because we want as many of our kids to go to college as possible, we do our best to make it affordable. But we don’t do our best to ensure that as many kids as possible will have the academic chops to attend college by making high-quality child care affordable.

Hopefully, the fact that high-quality child care is out-of-reach for too many children, along with the growing awareness of the importance of the early years in a child’s development, will spur lawmakers into greater action. Is it too much to hope that they would one day soon obsess over how to fix funding for high-quality early childhood programs the way they obsessed over fixing funding for the lottery scholarship?

*In New Mexico, assistance for child care costs are currently available only to those families making less than 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. That’s $19,790 or less for a family of three. Until a few years ago, New Mexico provided assistance to families under 200% FPL, but the budget for the program was cut and funding (and eligibility) has yet to be restored.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at bjordan@nmvoices.org.

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New Mexico is funding higher education way below pre-recession levels: Why we must reverse the trend

A report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently showed that New Mexico has cut per-student higher education funding by $4,588 since 2008. That’s a deeper cut than all but two other states. These funding cuts caused tuition to climb by an average of 25 percent since the recession and could mean serious consequences for New Mexico students.

How did this happen? Well, as our state slid into the recession, rather than choosing a balanced response to falling revenues that included both funding decreases and strategic revenue increases, New Mexico, like most states, relied almost solely on spending cuts to balance the budget. As a result, higher education funding was slashed, and universities responded by raising tuition and fees for students. The budget was balanced, but partly on the back of New Mexico college students.

Since 1973, public college tuition has grown by nearly 300 percent, but median household income has grown by only 5 percent. So, tuition has been skyrocketing at the same time that wages have been stagnant for all but the wealthiest earners, as this graphic shows.

grapph showing tuition has out-paced incomes

Students in New Mexico and across the country are now facing bigger hurdles than ever when it comes to financing their college educations. As states cut higher education funding, universities raise tuition and fees. As costs go up, students—especially those that are low-income—are forced to finance their education through loans. Growing student loan debt is made more difficult to repay due to rising interest rates. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, these barriers build on one another and are threatening to run over college students.

In New Mexico, those most in danger of being run over are low-income students who can’t keep up with rising costs, working students (who are unable to meet the now full-time requirements for the lottery scholarship), and a disproportionate number of minority students.

Our state’s kids are ranked last in the nation in child well-being, our economy is flat, and nearly 20 percent of our families live in poverty. On top of that, according to the Working Poor Families Project, while more than half of New Mexico’s working poor families have parents with no postsecondary education, it is tough for these parents to take college courses and move into better-paying jobs because only 25 percent of our state financial aid is need-based. Our policies, budget cuts, and tuition increases are not only holding back those who need an affordable college education the most, but also hampering New Mexico’s ability to develop a highly skilled workforce that can attract the businesses we desperately need to build our flailing economy.

But the news isn’t all bad. In fiscal year 2015, for the third year in a row, the state increased higher education funding, though by only a very small amount (about 5 percent). Lawmakers also provided a temporary patch to the lottery scholarship fund, but we are still far below pre-recession, per-student spending, and low-income, working, and minority students will continue to be hard-hit from decreased spending and increasing tuition unless serious improvements are made.

These improvements can begin with the lottery scholarship. The lottery scholarship should be need-based so that its limited funds go to those who need help the most and who face the biggest financial barriers to getting a college education. We should also consider restoring the College Affordability Fund, which had a $100 million balance prior to being raided for funds during the recession. Just as importantly, we must prevent future cuts to education budgets. New Mexico needs to reject further calls for more corporate tax breaks and consider new revenue options. We need to invest in our kids and our future by making education high-quality, accessible, and affordable.

Amber Wallin is a Research and Policy Analyst with NM Voices for Children. Reach her at awallin@nmvoices.org.

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New Mexico’s employment crisis; dead last in the West

Data for the first quarter of 2014 show that New Mexico is facing a severe shortage of the jobs our people need. The state’s unemployment rate is up and job growth is negative.

New Mexico’s labor market is stagnant at best, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, the survey of households used to estimate the unemployment rate. Since the unemployment rate measures people looking for work, the rise in the rate may have been caused by an influx of people entering the labor force to look for work. New Mexico’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent in March from 6.7 percent in February. That put our unemployment rate above the national rate of 6.7 percent. (The national unemployment rate in April was 6.3 percent but, because the April rate for New Mexico is not yet available, March rates are used for comparison.) Before March, New Mexico’s rate had been lower than the national rate during most of the past five years.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses the Current Employment Survey to estimate jobs and job growth. According to the BLS employer survey, New Mexico lost jobs in the first quarter of 2014.

The total number of jobs in New Mexico fell from 811,700 in March 2013 to 809,800 in March 2014. This was a drop of 1,900 jobs over the year. The number of jobs was 811,100 in February 2014, so the number of jobs fell over the month as well. As the following chart shows, New Mexico is way behind other states in the region for employment growth.

New Mexico continues to experience job losses in the goods-producing sector, which includes construction and manufacturing. Both construction and manufacturing jobs were down over the month and over the year. Construction and manufacturing are considered part of the foundation of the New Mexico economy. Construction and manufacturing jobs are often seen as bridge jobs—meaning they enable blue-collar workers to improve their skills and move up to more skilled and higher-paying occupations. That bridge doesn’t exist if construction and manufacturing employment is not growing.

Business services jobs include mainly well-paying jobs requiring a high level of education. Business services were down 1,200 jobs over the year and 200 since February. Business services includes employment at the two national laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia. The national laboratories are counted in the private sector because they are managed by private-sector firms for the Department of Energy.

The current austerity policies of the federal government are especially damaging to New Mexico because of the important federal presence of the national laboratories and the Air Force Bases in Albuquerque, Alamogordo, and Clovis.

There are a few bright spots. Leisure, hospitality, and trade sector jobs were up over the month as the national recovery, which is outstripping New Mexico’s recovery, has led to more tourists coming to New Mexico. These tend to be relatively low-wage jobs, however.

Health services jobs were steady over the year, but grew by 800 over the month from February to March. Health employment is expected to burgeon as the health services sector staffs up to meet the demands of the newly insured under the Affordable Care Act.

The Las Cruces metropolitan area is an outlier on the array of employment growth. Las Cruces is posting growth because of the expansion of the Santa Teresa port of entry, an intermodal transportation hub on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Farmington metro areas are losing jobs.

Gerry Bradley is Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at gbradley@nmvoices.org.

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Let’s show our support for moms—not just on Mother’s Day, but every day!

On this Mother’s Day, the staff at New Mexico Voices for Children wanted to tip our hats to all of the moms out there and celebrate them for doing all they do. As a working new mom myself, I thought we might also talk about some of the unique challenges that moms who work outside the home face.

Working mothers are now the primary or co-breadwinners for two-thirds of American families (see Figure 1).

Among low-income families, 39 percent are headed by mothers, according to the Working Poor Families Project. Yet, just as there is a wage gap between men and women, there is a significant wage gap between mothers and fathers: mothers earn only 69 cents for every dollar that fathers make (see Figure 2). Nearly 20 percent of these working mothers earn minimum wage.

For a lot of working mothers, problems securing high-quality and affordable child care make these income challenges worse. In New Mexico, full-time infant child care averages almost $7,400 per year, and that does not even ensure care at a licensed, high-quality center. What’s more, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average costs for child care for working mothers rose more than 70 percent from 1985 to 2011. Clearly, the cost of child care can be a huge financial challenge—especially for moms making low or minimum wages.

Even when moms can find child care they can afford, or they are able to secure it with the help of assistance that is available to low-income families, most moms don’t have paid sick or family leave or flexible schedules that allow them to take time off to care for their kids when they (inevitably, as I have found) get sick—a task that disproportionately falls to mothers.

Moms are working harder than ever before—both in and out of the home—to raise and care for great kids and to contribute to their professions and their communities. It’s time for us to work just as hard to ensure that they are supported in doing so!

There are policies that would both help mothers strengthen their economic security, as well as provide stable, healthy, and stimulating environments for their kids. Tax programs like the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, New Mexico’s Working Families Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit can all make a big financial difference in the lives of mothers and help them provide for their families. Strong equal pay laws can shrink the earnings gaps for moms and ensure they are getting paid equally for equal work. A raise in the federal minimum wage would bolster the economic security of the 4.7 million, or one in five, working mothers nationwide (see Figure 3). Work supports such as paid family and medical leave and access to affordable health care coverage can allow moms to take time off to care for a sick child without fear of losing their jobs. Increasing funding for child care assistance and improving quality for child care and pre-kindergarten programs can go a long way toward making sure that mothers can afford trustworthy child care and education for their kids while they work.

These proven policy solutions are widely supported by the majority of Americans because they are good for families and the economy. They can help ensure that moms have adequate opportunities to help themselves, their kids, and their communities thrive. For the good of all, let’s make moms and families a priority, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day!

Amber Wallin is a Research and Policy Analyst for New Mexico Voices for Children. Reach her at awallin@nmvoices.org.

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The elusive cost of job creation

How much is a job worth in New Mexico? In fiscal year 2011 (July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011) New Mexico taxpayers paid out $91.3 million in job subsidies for three “job creation” programs. Was it worth it? Unfortunately, we don’t know because very little information is available to citizens. In this age of technology, information ought to be available at the click of a mouse. Democratic governance values like openness and transparency ought to guide public officials in making such information available, especially during times when resources to fund basic services are so scarce. Without information to evaluate the cost of a job subsidy, we can’t properly weigh competing needs when setting priorities for public spending. Make no mistake about it, job subsidies are just as much items of spending as is money provided to state agencies for services.

However, as a recent report shows, job subsidies don’t usually get the same scrutiny as the direct spending side of the budget. Published by Good Jobs First in January 2014, the report Show Us the Subsidized Jobs shows that New Mexico has almost no information on job subsidies to evaluate whether they work. Out of 500 possible points, New Mexico scored only 34, which earned us a ranking of 38th in the nation. Most other states have been more forthcoming about job subsidies. States such as Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Texas, have enacted legislation or taken administrative steps to provide the public with information needed to evaluate tax breaks or job subsidies.

In the report, the authors examined the online availability of economic development subsidy awards and outcomes. For New Mexico, the authors examined five job subsidy programs: (1) the film tax credit, (2) the high wage tax credit, (3) the Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP), (4) the manufacturer’s investment tax credit, and (5) the technology jobs tax credit. All of our 34 points were earned by one program—JTIP—while all of the other job subsidy programs got zip.

In the wake of the Great Recession state policy makers have spent lots of time talking about ways to add jobs and revive New Mexico’s stagnant economy. One policy initiative pushed by Governor Martinez and passed by the Legislature in 2013 was a cut in corporate income taxes (CIT). This was done in the hope that it would result in something good. Whether or not this tax cut will prove to be effective in adding jobs is very much unknown. Unfortunately, just as for the job subsidy programs, there is no mechanism to measure how many jobs, what type or where they might be added as a result of the corporate tax cut, so attributing new jobs to the tax cut with any certainty will be impossible.

In order to know if these tax cuts and job subsidies work, we need to track their costs and evaluate their effects. We also need to do a much better job of giving the public information on these programs. An important first step would be the production of a complete tax expenditure budget, not one based on political calculation. The second step should be providing this information online in a format that is clear and concise.

James Jimenez is Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy Integration at NM Voices for Children. Reach him at jjimenez@nmvoices.org.

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Lawmakers approve unlimited investments in overseas corporations, but block a 1% investment in our own children

For several years, advocates for early childhood education have been making a strong case for investing more in our youngest kids. Citing evidence from economists like the Nobel-prize winning James Heckman and the former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, we’ve made the case that investing in early childhood provides a substantial return on investment.

    “Economically speaking, early childhood programs are a good investment, with inflation-adjusted annual rates of return on the funds dedicated to these programs estimated to reach 10 percent or higher. Very few alternative investments can promise that kind of return. Notably, a portion of these economic returns accrues to the children themselves and their families, but studies show that the rest of society enjoys the majority of the benefits, reflecting the many contributions that skilled and productive workers make to the economy.” —Ben Bernanke, Children’s Defense Fund National Conference, July 24, 2012
    “Professor Heckman’s analysis of the Perry Preschool program shows a 7 percent to 10 percent per year return on investment based on increased school and career achievement as well as reduced costs in remedial education, health, and criminal justice system expenditures.” —The Heckman Equation

Both of these financial experts make the point that when states invest in early childhood education, the state gets the benefits of a “double bottom line”—that is, not only does the state actually save money, it is also improving the lives of children, which further benefits the state with a more highly educated workforce that will contribute more in income taxes. The concept of a double bottom line is growing in popularity among investors who not only want to make money, but want to ‘do good’ with their money. Firms like Goldman Sachs are now beginning to invest in social impact bonds, including some that are invested in early education strategies. They’re doing it both to ‘do good’ and because they know it’s a sound investment strategy.

Investing our state’s $13 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund was the subject of more than one piece of legislation in the 2014 session. Advocates again worked to educate lawmakers about the return on investment of spending just a tiny percent of the permanent fund’s income to expand early childhood care and education programs. Among the benefits of these programs are reductions in child abuse, increased parental involvement, and improved kids’ school performance. As it has every year in the past three years, this legislation died.

One bill that did pass, however, would allow the state to invest more of the state’s school fund in international corporations (assuming it is approved by the voters in November). That might be a wise decision that gives a good return on investment, but I have more than a little heartburn over the fact that we’re willing to invest billions in foreign corporations, but not even a little bit in our own children.

To be clear, only a tiny percentage of our youngest kids currently have access to home visiting/parent coaching, high-quality child care or pre-K programs. Some legislators simply don’t want to change the status quo regarding the permanent fund, but if there’s another pool of money available for funding these critical programs, we haven’t seen it.

The Governor has no plan to fully fund early learning. The Legislative Finance Committee says it has a plan to phase in more funding over time, but at the rate they’re going, it will be decades before we achieve universal access and the kids who would benefit from these programs today will be parents themselves.

We may make a bit of money investing more of the Land Grant Permanent Fund in international ventures, but unless we decide to spend a fraction of that money on early childhood care and education, it will never improve the quality of our workforce or bolster our state’s economy. New Mexico’s kids deserve better. And with a $13 billion fund, the state can well afford to invest 1 percent in our own future.

Bill Jordan is the Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at bjordan@nmvoices.org.

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