Changing the course on child well-being

By James Jimenez
Jan. 15, 2019

When we plant a garden, we include all the ingredients we know will help it thrive: good soil, fertilizer, water, sunlight, and more. If we choose to starve our garden of the components for growth, we shouldn’t be surprised when the results are less than optimal.

If we think of New Mexico as a garden, the ingredients that it needs in order to grow and thrive are the public support systems we all depend upon – a vibrant economy, strong education and health care systems, infrastructure, and public safety services, to name just a few. These systems and services are the foundation upon which our state’s families, communities, and businesses take root and thrive.

For the past ten years, however, those public systems have been starved of the funds necessary for our state to thrive. Now our state budget looks to be healthy once again from higher oil prices and production, but this is a mirage. Tax cuts of the past have unbalanced our tax system and made us overly reliant on volatile energy taxes to a level that is unwise.

The past decade of austerity has been hard on New Mexico’s children. Last summer, New Mexico was again ranked last in the nation for child well-being on Kids Count indicators. New Mexico started the new year with one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation. You can find much more data about the state of child well-being in our latest New Mexico KIDS COUNT report, which we release every year on opening day of the legislative session. The data book also includes the policy recommendations that make up our plan for improving child well-being. Because, when our children fail to thrive, it is a sign of a deeper problem. It means our families, our communities, and our economy aren’t thriving either.

Despite these statistics, we are optimistic about the future because we believe in the strength and resiliency of New Mexico’s families. We know we can build stronger communities and support more resilient families and children so that they can thrive. What’s more, we know we can create those opportunities by strengthening our education and health care systems.

But we can only build a stronger New Mexico if our policymakers are willing to provide the revenue we need to make these investments. We must find ways to reduce our over-reliance on volatile oil revenues by raising new revenue that does not hurt the very families who most need help. We can do this by increasing personal income taxes on the highest incomes and repealing the big tax cut for out-of-state corporations that failed to create the promised jobs. By better balancing our revenue system we can invest for the long term and ensure opportunity for the long run.

We also need to ensure that the money is spent on raising teacher pay, expanding high-quality early care programs that reach children in their most formative years, and improving our health care system, infrastructure, and public safety. We can also make our state tax system fairer by enacting and expanding tax credits for hard-working families, who spend that money in communities large and small all across the state.

There are even ways to improve child and family well-being that don’t cost the state money. Raising the minimum wage, enacting real protections against predatory lenders, and streamlining the application process for health care and food services, which would all help hard-working families and the kids who depend upon them.

With a brand-new governor, this is the perfect time to change our course – to turn from austerity onto a road to opportunity. This is the time to take bold action to improve child well-being in our state. We must strike out on a new road in a decidedly different direction in 2019 and take better care of the garden that is our beautiful state.

James Jimenez is executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.