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N.M Policymakers’ Self-Delusion

N.M Policymakers’ Self-Delusion

What does the astounding number of 10,000 people applying for 290 jobs at the new Albuquerque Cheesecake Factory have to do with the recently completed 2016 legislative session?

New Mexico Policymakers Live in a State of Self-Delusion

BY JOE MONAHAN

What does the astounding number of 10,000 people applying for 290 jobs at the new Albuquerque Cheesecake Factory have to do with the recently completed 2016 legislative session?

Hardly anything at all. And that’s the problem.

New Mexico remains in something akin to an economic death spiral. Crashing oil prices and lower tax collections have depleted the state’s budget; crucial federal spending remains stagnant; the state has the highest jobless rate in the nation, the highest child poverty rate; and we’re still seeing more people leaving this enchanting Sunbelt state than moving in.

We have a desperate demand for call center and hospitality jobs while careers demanding more education or training go unfilled. Remember in 2013 when Albuquerque’s new Uptown Target store made headlines when 2,600 applied for 200 slots paying $9 an hour? You could not escape that news.

This time you had to use a microscope to find the mind-boggling report of thousands swarming to the Cheesecake Factory, even as a spokesman says those 10,000 applicants represent a near national record for the restaurant chain. New Mexico has skipped past anger and gone to outright denial, even as the downward spiral picks up steam.

At the legislative session, the Republican leadership in the State House didn’t even make a half-hearted effort to conceal that they’re not much interested in the jobs crisis or the continued decline in the state’s social conditions ranking. Instead, they cynically devised an “all crime all the time” session designed to elicit “soft on crime” votes from the Democrats and set the state for the fall election.

Of course, the R’s hope that, like the session, the election will focus on crime and not the economic pain so prevalent in the state. Never mind that it’s all that financial pain exacerbating the crime problem that the R’s claim to be so concerned about.

New Mexico’s problems are so deep and systemic and have been for several generations that they may seem unsolvable. The political class – dominated by conservative Democrats and Republicans – has fixated on making life better for business while failing to address the needs of the ever-growing underclasses.

Despite generous tax cuts designed to lure them, the businesses with the good-paying jobs have not come here because of the deteriorating quality of the workforce as well as the worsening social conditions. That sad and simple truth is inescapable, except if you are in Santa Fe’s Roundhouse. There, the unofficial state slogan seems to be “Love it or Leave it.”

At the legislative session, the Republican leadership in the State House didn’t even make a half-hearted effort to conceal that they’re not much interested in the jobs crisis

Given the cynicism and denial that were the hallmarks of this legislative session, the state seems ripe for a populist leadership willing to admit the problems and begin the cure. The Trump and Sanders candidacies on the national stage tell us that things can turn quickly once someone is willing to lead the parade.

New Mexico needs loud voices to begin its awakening. The first order of business is to value your human capital as much as your business capital, if not more. If the session taught us anything, it’s that there will be no quick turnaround.

The new leadership we await first will have to stop the bleeding by bringing revenue into the state treasury and launching a jobs program. Then comes the heavy lifting of a massive investment in early childhood education, workforce training, mental health and substance abuse programs and increased public school funding.

All of that rubs the current powers-that-be (Gov. Susana Martinez and Mayor Richard J. Berry) the wrong way, and they are not a flexible bunch. That makes the short-term outlook appear grim. But if you believe as I do that we are only a couple of leaders away from a potential renaissance, then there is reason to dismiss the denial of this legislative session as peculiar to the current crop of politicians and not the way forward.

Joe Monahan is a veteran of New Mexico politics. His daily blog can be found at joemonahan.com.

 

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.