Note: These remarks were given at the state Capitol during the “Moral Monday: The State Budget as a Moral Document” rally on February 9, 2015, which was sponsored by local labor unions.
My dad was a proud member of the National Association of Letter Carriers Union and I’m proud to stand with our friends in organized labor today. I’m Bill Jordan with New Mexico Voices for Children and I want to thank you all for being here to stand together.
Today we’re talking about the state budget, and you know, there’s been a lot of people in this Roundhouse taking credit for—quote—“balancing the state budget during the recession and fixing the worst budget deficit in our history.” And while everybody argues over who balanced the budget, they all missed the more important point about how they balanced the budget.
So I’m going to tell you.
In order to get through the recession, all 50 states ran into tough times and a lot of them had to either make spending cuts or find a way to raise more revenue. States did what they valued most. Some made cuts and others raised more revenue.
Here’s what New Mexico lawmakers did to balance our budget:
- In per-pupil spending, we made the 11th deepest cuts in the nation to K-12 education. New Mexico is now spending 8 percent less per student than we did in 2008.
- Of all the 50 states, New Mexico made the deepest cuts in the nation to per-student higher education funding. That led to steep tuition increases and that broke the lottery scholarship program.
- We even cut special education. We cut it so deeply that we lost even more federal dollars for special education.
- We cut eligibility for child care assistance so deeply that thousands of families have been put on a waiting list for the last seven years. And we still have not restored eligibility for child care to pre-recession levels.
- We cut youth tobacco prevention programs, after-school programs, youth suicide prevention, mentoring programs, and numerous other child and family support services.
- And I’m sure you all remember the story last year that revealed that the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) failed to adequately staff Child Protective Services, which investigates child abuse and neglect, and saved $6 million.
This is nowhere near 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 ranking for child well-being plunged to 50th in the nation, and now stand at 49th.
We will not improve child well-being unless we begin to prioritize education and support programs that work. And we can’t do that without adequate funding.
And I know that you know that they also balanced the budget on the backs of workers. The number of state employees has dropped by several thousand since 2008. That means you all who are public servants are working harder and, as the example of CYFD points out, you’re carrying bigger caseloads.
And while we have more children in our classrooms than ever before, we also have several thousand fewer teachers than we did in 2008.
Our state budget is a moral document.
If you say you support our families and want them to do their best, then show me the money!
If you say you support our kids and want them to do their best, then put your budget where your mouth is!
If you say you support workers, then give them a decent wage, and stop trying to take away their right to organize.
I’ve been here at your state Capitol every day of this session. And in committee hearings and floor sessions every day, I’ve heard about all the things that lawmakers would like to do, but alas, there is no money. Well, there is no money because they gave it away!
So rule number one is: stop giving the money away in big tax cuts for special interests and out-of-state corporations.
Rule number two is: put some justice back into our tax system and ask the rich and out-of-state corporations to pay their fair share. Raise the revenue we need to fund what is really important to all of us who call New Mexico home.
Isn’t it funny how they tell all of us they don’t have the money for workers and kids and families, but they always seem to have money for big corporate tax cuts—$250 million in the big corporate tax cut passed in 2013. No, it’s not funny! And it’s not moral! It’s not the priorities that New Mexicans share or deserve!
And so they nickel-and-dime our kids, they nickel-and-dime our workers, and the special interests and out-of-state corporations walk away with hundreds of millions in tax cuts. And the saddest irony of all? We’ve got nothing to show for it! We’re last in the region in job growth.
You want real economic development? Treat your working families with the respect and dignity they deserve.
We need to stop obsessing about which tax to cut next and instead make sure we have the funding we need for world-class education, health care, public safety systems, and the other quality-of-life issues that will make us an attractive destination for entrepreneurs, recent college graduates, business men and women, and working families.
I believe New Mexico workers are the best, and we should raise their minimum wage.
I believe New Mexico families are the strongest families in the nation, and they deserve our support.
I believe New Mexico’s children are the best and brightest when we give them a strong start and follow it up with every opportunity they need to succeed.
Let’s give all of our kids the future they deserve. Let’s give our working families the support they need. And let’s give our minimum wage workers a raise and make sure that all workers keep their right to organize!
Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at email@example.com.