New Mexico gov. outlines education, ethics reforms

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By Sue M. Holmes

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is reaching out to Democrats as the Legislature returns to work.

Martinez used her State of the State speech on Tuesday to call for a bipartisan approach to New Mexico's pressing problems, including a $400 million budget shortfall.

Martinez said the state's problems can be solved only if Democrats and Republicans — the governor and the Legislature — work together.

Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate.

"We face a historic budget deficit that will require candor to address and courage to resolve," Martinez told a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature.

New Mexico's budget problems have been papered over with unrealistic projections and temporary infusions of federal stimulus money, allowing politicians to avoid tough decisions, she said.

"No more shell games," Martinez said. "No more rosy projections."

Her speech outlined a package of education and ethics reforms. She wants to end the practice of promoting students to the next grade when they haven't mastered their current grade, and backs financial incentives for the state's best teachers.

She also is proposing mandatory prison time for public officials convicted of corruption and the loss of their government pension.

A former prosecutor, Martinez wants to reinstate the death penalty, which New Mexico abolished in 2009; subject people arrested for felonies to DNA testing; and target repeat drunken drivers by seizing their vehicles and increasing mandatory prison time.

Martinez already is at odds with some in the education community. Educators, parents and children rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, calling for tax increases to balance the budget and protesting any cuts in spending for public education.

The governor is proposing four steps to reform New Mexico's schools, including moving money from bureaucracy to the classrooms and creating financial incentives for New Mexico's best teachers.

She said people aren't fooled when a school district spends hundreds of thousands on public relations or hires lobbyists, then says the only place to cut is the classroom.

"The truth is there is waste and it must be eliminated," she said.

Her education plan calls for a grading system for schools — from A to F — and posting those grades to the web.

She also said the state must set the stage for wholesale changes to its tax structure to become more competitive and help people get back to work.

"We must remember that the long-term solution to our budget woes is economic growth," she said.

Government does not create jobs, but only creates an environment in which small businesses can create jobs, Martinez said.

But too many jobs are going to neighboring states, and too many of the state's sons and daughters are following them, she said.

Martinez proposes encouraging small business to hire the unemployed by covering part of their salaries for six months through the unemployment fund, opening an Office of Business Advocacy in the Economic Development Department to help them through red tape, and standardizing administrative practices to cut the costs of complying with regulatory guidelines.