New Mexico's challenge is to catch up

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By Hal Rhodes

Two and a half years is hardly sufficient time for any governor to transform a state with a history of consistently coming in at the bottom of national ratings that measure the well-being of its people.
Lord knows New Mexico has such a history.
Just last week in a book published by the respected Brookings Institution, we learned that New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque, ranks eighth in the nation where suburban poverty is concerned.
Think about it. New Mexicans, young and not-so-young, small town and rural, routinely abandon their homes in parts of the state where poverty and unemployment are chronic and head to the big city with hopes of bettering their lot.
Only the big city, a metropolitan area estimated by the Census Bureau to consist of more than 900,000 people, is in the grips of its own suburban poverty.
Among the ironies here is that Albuquerque is basically little more than a collection of connected suburbs, “subs” in search of “urban.”
Simply put: The economic condition of this enchanted land is dire straits and in need of help from the top.
Unfortunately the person at the top increasingly seems far less preoccupied with her state’s job losses and near-moribund economy than she is with dashing off, hither and yon, for chances to cozy up to her political party’s big-time campaign contributors.
If Susana Martinez came to office with any clearly articulated notions about revving up the state’s bedraggled economy it was that jobs would materialize if only New Mexico’s corporate taxes were cut.
This year the Legislature did just that, although many lawmakers thought those cuts were more likely to produce a multimillion dollar hole in the state’s already stretched budget than any significant number of jobs.
Last week Martinez’s Finance Secretary Tom Clifford basically acknowledged that the doubters had a point by publicly apologizing for misleading the Legislature in selling the corporate tax cuts as a job creation bonanza.
Also last week, New Mexico State University’s new president, former Republican Gov. Garrey Carruthers, took a shot at the idea that tax incentives are a surefire way to attract new businesses to a state.
Himself an economist, Carruthers noted that tax lures can backfire and even drive some enterprises away.
Speaking before the Legislative Finance Committee, he also noted that with the Great Recession New Mexico suffered a loss of almost 42,000 jobs.
What’s more, he added, given New Mexico’s failure thus far to recover from the recession, it could well be 2019 before those job losses can be recouped.
Carruthers is clearly onto something there.
In a May 16 report, Mary Gable of the Economic Policy Institute argues, “To return to prerecession unemployment rates, New Mexico would have to create 2,500 new jobs a month over the next three years.”
It is a large order facing Gov. Martinez should she seriously undertake measures plainly calculated to invigorate her state’s economy and create new jobs.
Gable notes that “Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in January show that over-the-year job growth of 0.4 percent (comparing January 2013 to January 2012), or 3,500 jobs placed New Mexico fourth from the bottom among all states.”
In short, compared to other states in the region and nationally, New Mexico’s economy is at a standstill and the new Brookings Institute book merely underscores that point.
Gov. Martinez’s poll numbers remain high. She is making herself into something of a celebrity out on the national political circuit.
But absent concerted efforts on her part to reverse some very troubling economic woes here at home, it could all be for naught.