by Amber Wallin
October 17, 2012

New Mexico is being pushed towards a ‘fiscal cliff.’ You’ve probably heard about the automatic spending cuts to defense programs that will take place unless the U.S. Congress acts before the end of the year. What you’ve heard less about is how New Mexico will also lose more than $41 million in federal funds to state social programs. Education programs will be hardest hit with cuts that will mean fewer teachers, bigger class sizes, and reduced training for the kind of high-tech jobs the state hopes to draw.

These automatic cuts—known as sequestration—will go into effect in January 2013 if Congress does not pass an alternative deficit reduction package. And while it’s right to be concerned with the scheduled cuts to defense funding—given New Mexico’s military bases and national labs—we cannot ignore the cuts to education, health, and employment programs.

Cuts in both defense and nondefense spending will lead to a direct loss of jobs. But cuts to nondefense programs will mean that the state will be less able to provide the kinds of support services unemployed New Mexicans will need and right when they need them most! Other nondefense cuts, like those to education and early childhood programs will slash investments in New Mexico’s kids. Such significant losses in federal funds would be extremely painful for the state’s already fragile economy and its future.

As detailed in a report just released by NM Voices for Children, decreased funding to education, health, and employment budgets will mean both lost jobs and reduced services for New Mexicans. It will mean fewer teachers, decreased health services, and less support for underemployed New Mexicans. New Mexico already has one of the worst poverty rates in the nation. Further cuts to nondefense programs will not only make this worse, but will also further hobble the pace of economic recovery by putting more people out of work and cutting job training programs.

And while deficit control is important, it is essential to understand where the deficit comes from in order to effectively reduce it. As a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows, by 2013, the Bush-era tax cuts for the richest Americans, two unfunded wars, and bail outs of big corporations will be the biggest contributors to the federal deficit. Social programs are not to blame for the deficit and those most in need of them should not suffer to fix a deficit they did not create.

We cannot rely on short-sighted cuts to vital services to bring about deficit reduction. Congress should act immediately by passing a balanced deficit reduction package that includes revenue increases as well as budget savings. Revenues should be raised by closing tax loopholes and letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. Cuts-only plans like the budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan that put an unfair burden on crucial social programs for families hardest hit by the recession must be rejected.

Right now, in our state and in the nation, people are still hurting. We are just beginning to recover from the worst of the recession, now is not the time to slash budgets that help those who were hardest hit. Now more than ever we need to focus on strengthening New Mexico’s future. We need great teachers and accessible health improvement programs. We need unemployment supports and training for high-skill jobs. In order to do this, we must invest in our future by supporting policies and candidates that take a responsible and balanced approach to deficit control.

Amber Wallin is a Policy Analyst for NM Voices for Children.
Our federal work is funded by grants from First Focus and Voices for America’s Children.