Boosting the state economy

January 28, 2017 • Editorial

It’s the economy, stupid.
Remember those words, which were posted at Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters when he was running for president in 1992? It served as a reminder to the campaign that, above all else, the American economy was the paramount issue of the moment, and as long as the campaign stayed focused on that single issue, victory was in grasp.
It worked. Clinton won the presidency that year, defeating George H.W. Bush’s bid for a second term. Maybe Donald Trump was listening because he too vaulted into power with a similar, “America First” economic message.
And maybe the Democrats, who now command a majority in the [auth] New Mexico Legislature, remember the message as well. On Thursday, they unveiled a six-point plan to create jobs and boost the state economy.
Of course, the campaign rhetoric of old isn’t going to fix a thing in our dearly beloved state of New Mexico — nor will a six-point job plan, if party leaders can’t find a way to finance their reforms. The Democrats may control the House and Senate for at least the next couple of years, but they must still contend with a Republican governor who’s aversion to a bigger state government has been well documented.
The Democrats’ job plan includes: sinking millions into infrastructure improvements; upping the state’s minimum wage; increasing broadband access around the state; researching the possibility of legalizing industrial hemp; reforming the method of distributing Local Economic Development dollars; and improving job-training programs to spur homegrown businesses.
If that sounds like more state dollars being thrown into our sluggish economy, you’re right, and that could prove problematic without some significant tax increases. It could also spell failure, since Gov. Susana Martinez has made it clear she wants to hold the line on taxes. See that pen in Martinez’s hand? It’s posed to veto tax increases.
She may also block a minimum wage increase, which we think would be unfortunate. After years of stagnant wages, the buying power of a $7.50 per hour wage is pitifully low, and an increase could help a lot of families rise above the poverty line. But that by itself won’t boost the overall state economy unless other efforts are made to make the state friendlier to businesses — especially homegrown businesses where entrepreneurs need more of a break in order to grow and succeed.
Not all of the plan’s details are price-tag heavy, however. Legalizing industrial hemp is a no-brainer, costing the state virtually nothing, and would boost the agricultural sector — something that Chaves County, the largest ag-producing county in the state, could certainly take advantage of.
The same is true for another industry many Democrats are opposed to — legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Notice it’s not part of the party’s six-point plan. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Piño, a Democrat from Albuquerque, has again proposed a democratic pathway to legalization: A resolution, immune from the governor’s veto pen, that would place the issue before voters as a constitutional amendment. Another measure being introduced, a bill that would require bipartisan support to overcome a gubernatorial veto, is also proposed, but because of Martinez’s opposition to legalization, it’s not likely to be signed into law.
Legalization would be a boon for New Mexico’s economy — just ask Colorado — by bringing a cash-heavy, underground industry into the realm of taxation. It’s a pathway to millions in tax dollars, so it should be given serious consideration. And if Martinez won’t budge in her opposition, we say, let the people decide.

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