Another approach to fixing the economy

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By Merilee Dannemann

Are you really ticked off at the dismal condition of New Mexico’s economy?
Are you sick of hearing about our lousy tax laws, our unwelcoming business climate and our unprepared work force?
Have you lost patience with the reports about how much better our neighboring states are? Does it bother you (as my colleague Harold Morgan noted recently) that Texas and Utah ranked first and second, respectively, in a 2012 CNBC study for the most business-friendly state, while New Mexico was tied for 36th? At least we weren’t 49.
Are you tearing your hair out about our mediocre education system and massive dropout problem? The education issue is related to the economy. Executives don’t want to move their families to a state with an inferior education system. You’ve heard that, too.
Everybody writes about this. I’m asking what we could do that hasn’t already been tried and gotten bogged down somewhere.
We are hearing the usual well-intentioned proposals about making our tax rates more competitive, eliminating unfriendly regulations, paying for job training and improving our schools. We finally, maybe, have a deal to save our spaceport from becoming a $200 million parking lot to nowhere, but that’s not certain because other states offer a better deal than what the New Mexico trial lawyers were willing to agree to.
One bold proposal is to tap into the state’s Permanent Fund for the benefit of a new early childhood program. This proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment, is Senate Joint Memorial 3, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.
But the bald fact is that we New Mexicans don’t trust our government to spend the money well. Do you? We worry that we could deplete the nest egg and get inadequate results.
So here’s a thought from outside the proverbial box. Pass the GMO labeling bill.
Senate Bill 18, sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, proposes to require labeling of genetically modified food. Consumers’ desire to get honest information about the food we buy has been trounced repeatedly by the Big Food industry, including the defeat of a citizen initiative in California last fall.
I figured this bill doesn’t have much of a chance, because I never assume that New Mexico can resist any powerful lobby; our Legislature couldn’t pass fireworks restrictions in a drought. But this could be a new approach to our perennial economic underperformance. Why? A huge untapped source of wealth is health-conscious rich people who prefer organic food and want to choose the food they eat.
New Mexico already attracts some of that group. They’re all over Santa Fe. If New Mexico becomes the first state with a genetically modified food labeling law, they will come by the jet-load. Some will bring their businesses in spite of our tax climate. Some will bring children in spite of our education system.
This is an incentive, not a government program, although it does require a bit of bureaucracy to enforce it. So won’t cost the state much money.
And the rest of us will benefit. Maybe this bill will make the food supply more healthful for all of us, including the children we are so concerned about.

Contact Merilee Dannemann through triplespacedagain.com.