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New Mexico In Depth NMInDepth.com

NM 201 2020 8 IN IN



LEGISLATIVE SPECIAL EDITION As New Mexico’s oil ‘gold rush’ continues, push is on to secure education funding







New Mexico's legalization plan uses new cannabis tax funds to add $5 million to hire & train law enforcement, $12 million to health care, and $3 million reinvested in at-risk communities each year. Our plan also helps people with old marijuana convictions get a second chance by allowing them to apply for new jobs in this new industry and helping in-state entrepreneurs grow this new industry.

CREATING 11, 000 NEW JOBS - FOR EVERY COMMUNITY Farming. Manufacturing products. Retail. Scientific labs. Regulators. Entrepreneurs in every part of our economy will be needed to grow this new industry. Farmers and small businesses in struggling communities see the opportunity to diversify their crops with cannabis or add cannabis food and other products to their existing kitchen and manufacturing outputs. That brings new money and jobs back to struggling small towns. 70% of New Mexicans under 35 want to work in legalized cannabis, or know someone who does. We know young families struggle to find opportunity in New Mexico. Legalization provides them the chance to stay home and help grow a new industry that supports their families.


Last year, New Mexico's medical cannabis program helped 75,000 patients and completed more than 3 million individual sales - all under tough regulations and oversight that helped NM avoid problems seen in other states. But medical cannabis, including for children's seizures and veterans' PTSD, is still too expensive (and hard to get for rural patients). Our plan lowers the cost of medical products and allows adult-use stores to provide medical products, bringing them closer to rural patients. Our plan puts patients first.




New Mexico's plan uses new cannabis tax revenue to fund important investments In programs we know have worked in other states.



Colorado State Patrol data shows that DWI rates went down 15%, and DWI fatalities involving marijuana went down after legalization. Why? CO used legalization taxes to train more officers in DWI identification & enforcement. NM's plan trains every officer in drugged DWI, and adds $5 million for local police overtime and hiring each year.


Health studies tracking teenage drug use show "significant decreases" in teen cannabis use in CO following legalization - the lowest in a decade (while NM increased). One reason: CO invested in health-based prevention programs aimed at teens. NM's legalization plan directs new revenue to these programs early. Source: "Teen pot use drops sharply in Colorado," Washington Post, 11/2017


Last year, New Mexicans bought an estimated $130 million medical cannabis products - almost three times more than chile. NM farmers grew 8,000+ acres of hemp/cannabis In 2019 - as much as chile. With legalization, cannabis would be one of our largest agricultural industries (a big opportunity for rural communities). Legal cannabis would employ 2X more than mining and take millions out of illicit 'black markets and put them into local community economies.




New Mexico In Depth 2020 LEGISLATIVE SPECIAL EDITION • JAN. 19, 2020 Trip Jennings

Marjorie Childress


Sponsorship art


Special thanks to our columnists:

Executive director

Sylvia Ulloa Jeff Proctor Jason V. Harper

Deputy director

Peter St. Cyr

Hailey Heinz, Patricia Jimenez Latham, Paul Gessing, Andrea Serrano, Eric Griego, Kathleen Sabo, Heather Ferguson, Peter St. Cyr, Emily Kaltenbach, Sheriff Glenn Hamilton

New Mexico In Depth is dedicated to journalism in the public interest that tells in-depth stories of people who represent our diversity and examines systems and institutions in a way that informs and empowers people and communities. This special edition is produced in conjunction with NMID’s media partners: Las Cruces Sun-News, Santa Fe New Mexican, Farmington Daily Times, Alamogordo Daily News, Carlsbad Current-Argus, Ruidoso News, Deming Headlight, Silver City Sun-News and the Rio Grande Sun.

INTRODUCTION...............................................................4 ARTICLES Governor has plan to fund early childhood education.... 6 Courts and cops line up for a cash infusion........................ 9 Public education will dominate 30-day session.............. 13 21st century ‘gold rush’ a boon for New Mexico........... 16 Not all lawmakers make spending choices public.......... 19 Low pay a stumbling block for quality childcare........... 24 COMMENTARY Universal education beyond K-12 is within reach.......... 28 Boosting education will take leadership, investment...... 29 2020 legislative session offers promise and peril.......... 30 We won’t concede in struggle for democracy................ 31 Put progressive tax, working families atop agenda...... 32 Ethics commission needs funding, strong rules.................. 33 Ethics, elections, judiciary a focus for Common Cause... 34 State leads on accountability, but there’s more to do... 35 Add cannabis to mix of sustainable industries................ 36 Consider public safety before legalizing cannabis....... 37





Join us again in this important conversation Dear Reader,

debates. So expect Lujan Grisham and the Legislature to As the 2020 New Mexico debate how best to reenvision legislative session kicks off education. this week, a key theme, like Beyond the school classroom last year, will be education. there are needs, too. Better Good economic times Trip Jennings roads. Safer bridges and dams. continue to roll thanks to More staff at state agencies, the 21st century version of a some of which the governor gold rush in the state’s southdescribed as having vacancy east. Lawmakers and Democratic Gov. rates as high as 40%. And a reduction Michelle Lujan Grisham are relying in crime. The governor will ask state on the surplus for an ambitious policy lawmakers to deliberate over a comagenda. Continuing with the progress prehensive crime package based on the state made on education in 2019, evidence-based proposals. Lujan Grisham wants to create a trust The state’s pension systems might fund for the state’s 123,630 children need a monetary fix, too. And New under age 5 with a one-time $320 mil- Mexico might take the first step tolion appropriation. It has the blessing ward requiring law enforcement to of Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman record the race and ethnicity of people of the powerful Senate Finance Comthey arrest and lock up. mittee. She also wants to make college Parallel to the spending discussion tuition free for New Mexicans. will be the usual push-pull over how A 2018 court ruling that found New much to save versus countercalls to Mexico guilty of shortchanging atcollect more revenue. The latter will risk students of a sufficient education include a hot-button proposal to will continue to influence legislative legalize recreational cannabis, which

supporters say would generate new tax revenue and be sure to generate lively debate. Raising tax rates on the wealthiest New Mexicans will get some debate time, too. Finally, state lawmakers could for the first time ever vote to disclose publicly how they allocate taxpayer dollars for projects around New Mexico. Last year state lawmakers dished out $300 million for projects large and small. The projects that were funded were public, but seeing how individual lawmakers spent their money was not. In addition to this special legislative edition focused on the budget, education, criminal justice and transparency, you’ll find numerous essays by columnists about what they hope to see during the 30-day session. We hope it helps you understand some of the key issues lawmakers will be grappling with over the next four weeks. Thanks for reading. We hope you’ll follow along with us during the session, at www.nmindepth.com.



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FUNDING THE FUTURE Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pushes new proposal for early childhood education By SYLVIA ULLOA New Mexico In Depth

The term “trust fund babies” may evoke millennial hipsters in trendy urban neighborhoods living off wealth stockpiled by their more entrepreneurial parents or grandparents. It’s a lifestyle most working class New Mexico families perhaps wouldn’t recognize or even aspire to. But Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, sometimes has trouble explaining her proposal to create a revenue source to support the new state Early Childhood Education and Care Department. So she’s marketing the idea as a trust fund for the state’s 123,630 children under age 5. The analogy is a good one. The rich grandparents would be the state of New Mexico. The wealth they’re sitting on is the oil and gas underneath state and federal land. And the trust fund they want to create would help pay for the education of their heirs for generations — in this case preschool, home visiting and early intervention programs for children with disabilities. The new permanent fund envisioned by Gallegos would pay out millions every year for early education programs and services, kick-started with a big chunk of the oil and gas surpluses New Mexico is currently enjoying. Gallegos even has the support of a stern, grandfatherly figure — Sen.

Sylvia Ulloa/New Mexico In Depth

A child plays with her toys at a child care center in Alamogordo. A proposal to create a new permanent fund would support programs in the newly created Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The department is expected to take over programs and services for children prenatal to age 5. John Arthur Smith, a fiscal hawk who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Not to mention that of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a grandmother herself. Smith, a Democrat from Deming, has blocked a similar effort to pay for early education using the Land Grant Permanent Fund, a $19 billion pile of cash built on oil and gas money whose proceeds are primarily used for K-12 education. This year, earnings from the Land

Grant fund contributed more than $784 million to the state budget, and lawmakers like Smith argue the stockpile must be protected for future generations when the state can no longer rely on its valuable fossil fuels. Others argue New Mexico will never build an educated workforce and diversified economy less reliant on oil and gas without tapping the fund for early education. The Gallegos proposal circumvents that debate by creating an

entirely new stockpile of cash that generates money each year for early education. The proposed Early Childhood Education and Care Fund was announced publicly in October by Finance Secretary Olivia Padilla-Jackson who, along with Children’s Cabinet Director Mariana Padilla and Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey, has worked Continued on 7 ➤

New Mexico In Depth • 2020 LEGISLATIVE SPECIAL EDITION Continued from 6 ➤ with Gallegos to craft a piece of legislation for lawmakers to consider during the 2020 session. Gallegos has promoted the idea of creating a new permanent fund for several years, she said. When she entered the House in 2013, during the Great Recession, she found trimming essential services excruciating. She remembers thinking, “This is terrible. We’re cutting Meals on Wheels. We’re cutting off services to kids, cutting education. It wasn’t because we wanted to, it was because there was no money.” Setting aside money during flush times dovetailed with Lujan Grisham’s focus on early childhood and legislators’ and administration officials’ desires to soften the financial pain during lean budget years. “The bottom line is I’ve been supportive from the get-go,” Smith said of the proposal, but it was a matter of whether the state had the money

to bankroll the idea. This year seems like the right time, Smith told New Mexico In Depth. The Legislative Finance Committee on Dec. 9 got an updated forecast of expected revenue for 2020, with the state expecting a $797 million surplus. That’s down from $907 million in “new money” forecast in August, but still a large chunk of money to divvy out for things like education, infrastructure and state agencies. How it would work

Starting in July 2021, excess money from two state revenue sources — the Oil & Gas Emergency School Tax and Federal Mineral Leasing — would go into the Early Childhood trust fund after the state’s total general fund reserve hit 25% of current spending, Padilla-Jackson explained. The bill also asks the LegContinued on 8 ➤




Continued from 7 ➤ islature to kick in a one-time $320 million contribution. That same year, the fund would distribute $20 million for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department programs, and every year thereafter the department would receive $30 million or 5% of the three-year average balance of the endowment fund, whichever is greater. The fund will also have a “break glass in case of emergency” provision where lawmakers can tap the fund to pay for essential childhood services during a prolonged budget shortfall, though that would only kick in after the state exhausts its large reserve, Padilla-Jackson said. The finance secretary said the fund fits into a strategy of creating more reliable revenue streams and flattening out the highs and lows of New Mexico’s budget. “A really important part of this

proposal is that it really builds on the tax stabilization reserve that was created by the late Rep. (Larry) Larrañaga, where he initiated this idea of not utilizing all of the peaks when we have an oil and gas boom,” Padilla Jackson said. Padilla Jackson said estimates based on current oil and gas revenue projections are that the Early Childhood fund could reach $1 billion over the next three years, generating about $40 to $50 million per year for early childhood services. The fund would continue to grow through excess oil and gas revenues and profits generated by the State Investment Council. But the idea, while welcomed, doesn’t allay concerns that the state isn’t doing enough to fund early education. Rep. Javier Martinez, a Democrat from Albuquerque who has been pushing to use the Land Grant fund for early childhood education, said he supports any steady funding that

We look forward to standing with policymakers and allies in 2020 to make sure working families thrive in New Mexico.


Text WFP to 738674

provides services for kids, but believes this proposal doesn’t go far enough. He plans to renew his fight to tap the Land Grant fund during the 2020 session. From his vantage point on the House Tax and Revenue and Legislative Finance committees, Martinez said he didn’t see any other source of revenue big enough to fund a comprehensive early childhood system. For Martinez, the early childhood system goes beyond PreK and home visiting programs. It includes behavioral health programs, help for children with disabilities, and decent wages for early childhood educators. “The true cost of early childhood far exceeds what we currently invest and it will continue to far exceed even what the $1 billion fund will generate,” Martinez said. “So, yeah, we still need to invest from the permanent fund. I think taking all of those sources together, then we really start to make a dent in the unmet need.” Lori Martinez, the executive director of Ngage NM, a “cradle to career” education nonprofit based in Las Cruces, said she supports tapping the Land Grant permanent fund, but one of her worries has been the multiple hurdles and the prolonged fight to tap it. Changing the rules on what the fund can pay for requires a state constitutional amendment, and in this case, it was the U.S. Congress that made the rules. So, even if Rep. Martinez can get his proposal through the Senate, where it has stalled year after year, it would still need to go before New Mexico voters and potentially the U.S. Congress for approval. “What are we doing now, you know, not down the road five or six years? Because those kids we’re talking about serving are babies now,” she said. “They’re preschool age now. Do we just keep forgetting about them?”

Courtesy of Doreen Gallegos

House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, is sponsoring a bill that would create a new endowment dedicated to early childhood programs such as preK and home visiting. Lori Martinez liked that the Early Childhood fund could get a governor’s signature in 2020 and start distributing money in 2021. But she also agrees with Martinez, the lawmaker, that the fund would be just a down payment. Ultimately, more money will be needed, she said, to fully support the Early Childhood department. Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, said the administration also sees a new endowment fund as a first step in a larger campaign to provide universal preschool and child care in a state that consistently ranks at the bottom of national rankings on child wellbeing. “That’s the vision,” Meyers Sackett said, “to continue expanding these programs, expanding these funds for these programs.” You know, for New Mexico’s trust fund babies.




Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen of the Santa Fe Reporter

As courts and cops line up for a cash infusion, reform ideas will also be up for debate By JEFF PROCTOR New Mexico In Depth

Lawmakers will be inundated with funding requests during the 2020 legislative session from across the state, as New Mexico sits poised to enjoy a second year of cash surpluses. It’s a good problem to have.

Judges, prosecutors, police and public defenders will be among those in line for budget increases, as they seek to plug holes in the criminal justice system that have festered over the past decade. There will be a few criminal justice system reforms on the agenda as well. The cash infusions are sought to

fix, at least in part, problems that have long bedeviled the state, including the nation’s lowest paid judges, stubbornly high crime rates and inadequate defense for people of modest means swept up in the criminal justice system in one of America’s poorest states. DA’s offices will be asking for more money to handle increased

caseloads stemming from crime rates around the state that never seem to dip much. The Law Office of the Public Defender has managed to plug some holes after an increase last year, but the lawyers who are state-mandated to represent those who can’t afford counsel remain Continued on 10 ➤



Continued from 9 ➤ overburdened. Finally, according to officials who spoke with NMID, the courts will seek new judgeships to relieve the workload on some judges and additional funding for other court programs. As it has dominated newspaper headlines and television broadcasts, New Mexicans can expect to see the crime issue front and center as the session begins Jan. 21. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat entering her second session, is pushing a comprehensive crime package, her spokeswoman wrote in an email to New Mexico In Depth. “It will include proactive, evidence-based proposals to reduce crime and to protect all New Mexicans and those who visit us.” As is so fre- Sedillo Lopez quently the case, Albuquerque with its perennially high crime rate is likely to factor strongly in legislative priorities for crime prevention. Mayor Tim Keller is seeking $20 million for “crime fighting technology” and $10 million for violent crime prevention programs. And money to hire dozens of new State Police officers is expected to be up for debate.

Criminal justice reforms

The 2019 session saw a number of long-sought criminal justice reforms. Lawmakers passed a “Ban the Box” bill that bars a question on employment applications about whether a person has a felony conviction. And they limited the way jails and prisons use solitary confinement on inmates, particularly pregnant women, people living with severe mental illness and children. But there was unfinished business — and a few issues legislators hadn’t been considering until news stories spurred discussion. Although Lujan Grisham’s office was reluctant to discuss specifics on some systemic reforms percolating as the session approaches, lawmakers who spoke with NMID appear confident that several hot topics will be on the agenda. Knowing who’s caught up in the system

One issue that’s sure to be heard when lawmakers convene: A path for the state to finally begin collecting race and ethnicity data in some areas of the justice system. New Mexico has trailed most other states in identifying the demographics of people encountered by police, arrested, locked up and sentenced, as NMID reported during the 2019 session. State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat, is sponsoring a memorial that would

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direct the New Mexico Sentencing Commission to study whether the state’s jails and prisons collect race and ethnicity data on people who are behind bars both before and after being sentenced. “I don’t expect there to be any problems with this whatsoever in terms of it passing,” Sedillo Lopez said. “It is not a controversial idea to ensure that we know who is incarcerated in our prisons and jails.” Conversations with numerous justice system researchers and observers during 2019 showed her how complex data collection can be, however, she said. “This goes from the traffic stop to the arrest to the court process to an appeals that might be filed and ultimately to imprisonment,” Sedillo Lopez said. “Right now, so many of these entities struggle to communicate; there’s no follow through. And there’s no way to just snap your fingers and make this happen. Sedillo Lopez said the memorial would focus on collecting demographic information from incarcerated individuals first, to ensure that data is self reported, from which regular reports would allow examination of demographic trends. The Sentencing Commission has agreed to spearhead a task force to dig deeper into demographic questions in the system. The group’s work, she said, will form the basis for a bill in 2021 that will require race and ethnicity data collection.

Probation and parole

Expect a stickier criminal justice debate — one that has thrust Lujan Grisham between the state’s district attorneys and the attorney general and criminal justice reformers in the Legislature — to return for lawmakers’ consideration in January. Last year, the Legislature passed on wide bipartisan margins a bill that would have significantly reduced the number of “technical violations” — including failed drug tests or failure to show up for a meeting — that send people on probation and parole back to jail or prison. The goal was to leave incarceration as an option for the state’s more serious offenders and offer programs to help other people stay out of the criminal justice system. With an unusual veto message, Lujan Grisham shot down the measure, which included several other changes to the state Corrections Department’s Probation and Parole Division, saying essentially that she would have signed the bill had it not been for objections raised by the state’s district attorneys and attorney general after the bill had cleared the Legislature. State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat, one of the bill’s sponsors, said several “productive” meetings with prosecutors and others opposed to the 2019 version have led to a comContinued on 11 ➤


promise he is confident will make it onto the 2020 legislative agenda. Lujan Grisham’s spokesman told NMID some version of the probation and parole reform bill will be introduced, but officials were still working out specifics. This year’s bill, which has gone through several drafts, is likely to beef up the definition for who Maestas has “absconded” from probation or parole, Maestas said, giving law enforcement more leeway on who could potentially be arrested for evading officers. The new bill also will likely “add teeth to some of the more serious technical violations,” allowing law enforcement and judges to send people back behind bars

This version of the bill will lower recidivism and prison costs, but also help get people back on their feet and away from the criminal system. — State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas

if they don’t comply with the conditions of their release. “This version of the bill will lower recidivism and prison costs, but also help get people back on their feet and away from the criminal system,” he said. The bill also is likely to include the elimination of “parole costs,” which require people placed on parole to pay $125 a month in fees, and “probation costs,” which add up to a little less than $20 a month.

Continued from 10 ➤

“That’s part of a national movement away from excessive fees and fines,” Maestas said. “Do we really want to be sending people back inside because they can’t pay?” Another compromise in this year’s probation and parole bill: Lawmakers plan to eliminate a section that would have required the state Parole Board to issue written findings when denying parole to people sentenced for capital crimes such as murder when they come up for

11 parole after serving 30 years. That portion of the bill was a sticking point for those opposed last year and formed the crux of their rallying cry when asking the governor to veto it after the session ended. “We simply didn’t want the headache this time around,” Maestas said. “We are instead going to encourage the Parole Board to do written findings on its own.” The defense lawyer, who in the past served as a prosecutor, does expect the bill to create one new debate — around a proposal to remove the probation division from the auspices of the Corrections Department. Bill sponsors want to create a new state division to supervise people on probation. The idea, Maestas said, is to change the culture in the state’s probation services to focus more on violent offenders and “high-risk offenders.” “There will be pushback on that initiative,” he said.



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Nathan Fish/Las Cruces Sun-News

Mesquite Elementary fourth-graders raise their hands during class. The students alternate the language they learn in — one week in English, the next in Spanish. Dual language education encourages bilingualism rather than moving students to English-only education. Beefing up bilingual and multicultural education will be on the agenda for New Mexico lawmakers this session.

Public education issues are poised to dominate 30-day session, with focus on at-risk students By TRIP JENNINGS New Mexico In Depth

A short exchange at Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s town hall last month captured the magnitude of the mission New Mexico is on as it seeks to remake public education.

A mother, a recent transplant to Albuquerque from Gallup, told Lujan Grisham that school officials said her 8-year-old autistic daughter couldn’t learn Navajo. “Because it would confuse her,” the woman said, confessing the information hurt and angered her. “This has been going on for years

and years and centuries with our culture,” the speaker said into a microphone so she could be heard by the crowd and those listening online. “I want her to learn who she is, where she came from and her identity and growing up and being proud of who she is.” The woman’s complaint could

have been lifted from a 2018 court ruling that these days is forcing New Mexico to invest big in educating students who’ve historically gotten less. Noting federal and state governments’ forced assimilation of indigenous children over centuries, the late state Judge Sarah Singleton said the practice led to a “disconnect from and distrust of state institutions, such as public schools, where Native American values are Continued on 14 ➤



Continued from 13 ➤ not respected.” Lujan Grisham acknowledged to the woman the state’s imperfect lurches toward improvement as New Mexico tries to overturn decades of policy and funding decisions to better educate at-risk students, most of whom are from communities of color. The state is struggling “to get the cultural and linguistic requirements of every student met” despite increasing funding for Native American students, the governor said. “The fact that we are not doing it for you means that we have to provide more support for your school, to you and to your daughter,” Lujan Grisham said before encouraging the speaker to meet with her Education secretary, Ryan Stewart, who sat a few feet from his boss on stage. The moment showcased one New Mexico family’s obstacles and served as a reminder that stories such as these likely aren’t rare in a state where a majority of the state’s public school students qualify for at least one risk factor. Lujan Grisham and state lawmakers return to Santa Fe this month with that reality in mind after pumping a half a billion additional dollars last year into the public education system, which takes up nearly half the state budget. “A step toward our moon shot,” the governor called the investment. Half a billion dollars comes with expectations, but as policy makers, lobbyists and elected officials often observe, big change takes time. And in this case, the change is big not only because it’s decades overdue, but also because policy makers say it requires both sweeping vision and a penchant for the meticulous – an ability to see two generations into the future while remembering people in the here and now, like a woman telling you how the current system is letting down her 8-yearold daughter.

State of New Mexico K-12 Education Budget $4B

(in billions)


$2.752B $2B











The New Mexico FY20 K-12 education budget grew 16% over FY19. Source: New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration

“We want to know as many specifics about” your daughter’s situation, the governor said to the woman. “It is an area that is going to require a lot of attention.” Everyone agrees 2019 wasn’t a case of one and done for education, and Lujan Grisham has an ambitious agenda for the 2020 session, as do top lawmakers. The governor is supporting an idea to create a trust fund for the state’s 123,630 children under age 5 to help pay for preschool, home visiting and early intervention programs for children with disabilities. She’s pushing for a one-time $320 million appropriation. She also wants to make college tuition free for New Mexicans, an idea that generated whoops and cheers from the town hall crowd. And her administration wants to diversify the state’s teaching ranks, she said, to include more Native Americans and those who speak more than one language. According

to findings in the 2018 Yazzie/Martinez court case, fewer than 2% of teachers in the state’s public schools are Native American compared to the nearly 11% among students. “You don’t have enough Hispanic educators, don’t have enough male educators,” the governor said at the town hall. “Then you need to make sure you are making those investments” to spread opportunity around so that “our educators will come from the same cultural backgrounds and will relate to their students and vice versa.” Meanwhile, top lawmakers hope to increase educators’ salaries again as they did in 2019 to cauterize the state’s chronic teacher shortage. “We are not attracting enough teachers,” said Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, a retired educator from Albuquerque who added there were 644 openings around the state. There will be a push to invest in quality housing for educators working in majority Native, mostly rural

school districts, too, to try to stem the high staff turnover, said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. Egolf and the House budget committee chair, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, also hope to boost the bottom line for some of those low-income districts by letting them keep more federal dollars called “impact aid,” which assists local school districts that have lost property tax revenue because of the presence of tax-exempt tribal or federal lands. Currently, the state runs much of those dollars through a state equalization formula, and then disperses it around the state to other districts, including much wealthier ones than those that triggered the federal aid in the first place. The equalization formula was created in the mid-1970s to ensure all students have equal access to programs and services regardless Continued on 15 ➤



Continued from 14 ➤ of geographic location or local economic conditions. Rolling the federal impact aid money into the formula creates an “inequity in what was an otherwise good idea,” said Regis Pecos. A former governor of Cochiti Pueblo and co-founder of Santa Fe’s Leadership Institute, an indigenous think tank, Pecos has spent decades thinking about indigenous education. Pecos, who works as the chief policy adviser for House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, welcomes New Mexico’s focus on educating children from the state’s low-income communities of color. But it’s not a new problem, he said. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Kennedy Report, a federal review of indigenous education that acknowledged the classroom was a tool of assimilation for indigeneous children for much of this country’s history. To emancipate “the Indian child from his home, his parents, his extended family, and his cultural heritage,” as its authors wrote. A perusal of the more than 3,000 findings of fact from the Yazzie/ Martinez court case puts in relief the obstacles policy makers must contend with as they seek to reform a system centuries in the making. For instance, in recent years, teachers with language certificates in school districts with high concentrations of Native American students refused to teach indigenous youth learning English because they believed low test scores might “negatively affect their teaching evaluations.” Meanwhile, most Native American English learners in six school districts with high concentrations of indigenous students were placed in remedial reading rather than given dual language or bilingual pro-

Nathan Fish/Las Cruces Sun-News

Claudia Sanchez, a fourth grade dual language teacher at at Mesquite Elementary, explains how to round numbers in Spanish this fall. The state is under court order to improve education for English learners, and the bilingual programs in the heavily Hispanic Gadsden Independent School District are among the most successful in the state. grams that are considered the gold standard for teaching English learners. Pecos hopes the state continues to invest big in education in 2020, but with a holistic view that accounts for history and addresses economic and educational injustices. One that recognizes that salaries will only go so far in reforming the system. There must be well-thought-out strategies to produce more indigenous teachers and give more communities flexibility in curriculum, and on and on. It’s not one thing, but many, he said. “It is no longer about a legal obligation or the test of political will,” Pecos said. “This session will be a defining moment of our collective moral character to do the right thing.”

Nathan Fish/Las Cruces Sun-News

A student works in Claudia Sanchez’s fourth grade dual language class at Mesquite Elementary School in southern New Mexico. The Gadsden Independent School District has a school population that is nearly all Hispanic and low income, and has a large number of English learners. New Mexico must serve these at-risk students to answer the Yazzie Martinez school funding lawsuit.




Looming over a multitude of priorities for the state of New Mexico during the upcoming legislative session is public education – from early childhood through to college and university.

By TRIP JENNINGS New Mexico In Depth

We pick up where our story left off last year. As in 2019, we find New Mexico’s fortunes glittering in a 21st-century version of a gold rush in the oil-rich southeast as state lawmakers prepare for the 2020 30day session. Policy makers will have about $800 million more in revenue than this year’s state budget to work with when crafting the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

21st century ‘gold rush’ fuels long wish list for schools, infrastructure In an election year like 2020, it’s easier to partition a surplus than to cut programs and services, as state leaders discovered a few years ago in 2016 after a freefall in tax revenue forced painful choices. “We’re lucky to have the kind of revenues that are coming into the state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an audience last month at an Albuquerque town hall. There’s always a “but,” however,

and Lujan Grisham didn’t disappoint. After acknowledging New Mexico’s gilded economic forecast, she recited a backlog of needs.. “Our roads aren’t safe. Our bridges aren’t safe. Our dams aren’t safe,” the first-term Democrat said. “And we need to make sure we’ve gotten enough water resources for the future.” Looming over those and other priorities, however, as the governor

and legislative leaders readily admit, is public education – from early childhood through to college and university. Policy makers are paying closer attention to how New Mexico educates at-risk students who make up the majority of the state’s public school population. So expect a reprise of 2019, of sorts, when state leaders pumped half a billion dollars into the system after a historic ruling in the Yazzie-Martinez court case found New Mexico guilty of not providing Continued on 17 ➤


New Mexico In Depth • 2020 LEGISLATIVE SPECIAL EDITION Continued from 16 ➤ a sufficient education for low-income students, many of whom are English language learners, Hispanic and Native American. “We have an incredible opportunity to address huge deficiences in our education system,” said Sen. Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “When you have resources like this, this is the chance to get ourselves out of the hole we’ve been in as a state.” It’s hard to predict the return or not of a back-room, weeks-long debate that enveloped lawmakers in 2019. The conversation pit those who lobbied for more sweeping reforms that prioritize multicultural education – as called for by plaintiffs in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit – versus those who advocated for directing more dollars to existing programs and teacher pay raises. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, however, said it’s not going to be “either or” this session, but “yes, all.” Lujan Grisham also is asking state lawmakers to make college tuition free for New Mexicans. If she gets what she wants – there is some debate over the cost – it would position New Mexico in the middle of a national trend, according to Kate O’Neill, the governor’s secretary of higher education. Twenty states have adopted the approach and another 10, including New Mexico, are eyeing it, O’Neill

State of New Mexico Operating Budget $8B

(in billions)



$7.068B $6.235B











The New Mexico FY20 general fund grew almost 12% over FY19. Source: New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration

told the crowd in Albuquerque. But policy makers are looking to square more than public education when they meet in Santa Fe. Lujan Grisham wants to fully staff state agencies. Some departments have 40% vacancy rates, she told her audience. And the wish list grows when you survey legislative leaders and rankin-file state lawmakers. The state’s pension systems require a cash infusion, some say. And roads around the state need improving, especially in the southeast where traffic

from the oil boom is worsening already-bad roads. “I will be pushing for (additional money) for roads and bridges” to supplement the state’s transportation fund, said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, whose committee drafts the state budget each session. The transportation fund “is not even close to keeping up with the needs.” The discussion over what will receive funding will parallel the usual push-pull over how much of the state’s surplus to save for years when the economy deflates tax revenue.

New Mexico’s finances historically have mirrored the boom-bust cycle of oil and gas, the state’s largest industry. And there are those – Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Sen. Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, come to mind – who advocate for tucking away as much as possible for the busts that always follow the booms. “We’ve got so much money coming in now we have to be careful what we set up on reoccurring revenues and Continued on 18 ➤

www.RivalStrategyGroup.com david@rivalstrategygroup.com



make sure of our reserves,” said Ingle. “The oil market is going to fall off. We have to watch how we spend or we’re going to be in trouble.” Indeed, there are signs of volatility. While no one disputes that New Mexico is sitting on reserves the U.S. Geological Survey characterized as the largest the federal agency had ever seen, in December state economists lowered the estimate of new money available to craft next year’s state budget to $800 million, down from $900 million from an earlier prediction. The downgrade reflected the ups and downs of drilling activity in the Permian Basin that straddles New Mexico and Texas, which is responsible for New Mexico’s fulsome economic picture. That volatility makes some skittish about the state’s predilection for counting on too much from the oil and gas industry.

We’ve got so much money coming in now we have to be careful what we set up on reoccurring revenues and make sure of our reserves. The oil market is going to fall off. We have to watch how we spend or we’re going to be in trouble. — Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales

“It’s a world commodity and it is subject to economic whims globally,” said Smith. But in response, some legislators say the state should focus on creating state revenue from a variety of sources so New Mexico isn’t so vulnerable to the world oil market. That will lead state lawmakers to a question they return to every year: How do you diversify the

Continued from 17 ➤

state’s economy to provide essential services and reduce the pain when the oil busts inevitably follow the booms. Ideas likely to log debate time with state lawmakers include a proposal to legalize recreational cannabis, which supporters say would generate new tax revenue, to one that would call for raising the tax rates on the wealthiest New Mexicans.

How to reform the state’s single biggest levy, the gross receipts tax, likely will log some debate time, too. Overlaying the policy discussions, and the politics that inevitably will come with them, will be the 2020 election, less than a year away and already generating buzz. That, in turn, might magnify a central theme of the 2019 session that some say will only be sharpened in an election year: the rural-urban divide. During the 2019 session, for example, the Democratically controlled Legislature passed gun legislation signed into law by Lujan Grisham that generated significant pushback from sheriffs in the state’s mostly rural counties. “Their concerns are so different,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque. “Their problems are so different. The revenues that each generates are so different. It’s always a question of ‘well, if we do this for you, it’s going to mean less for me.’ ”

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Most – but not all – lawmakers make spending choices public By MARJORIE CHILDRESS New Mexico In Depth

Can you think of a public official who spends public money and then gets to keep the spending choices secret? That’s what New Mexico lawmakers do. New Mexico’s lawmakers dished out $300 million dollars for infrastructure projects large and small during the 2019 legislative session. The stockpile they divvied up amounts to about a third of the $1 billion capital outlay budget signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after the session ended. Awash in oil and gas money, lawmakers then gave themselves another $60 million to hand out for a wide variety of programs and projects, not just infrastructure. While the public can see what projects were funded in the legislation, seeing which ones individual lawmakers earmarked money for is not public information. Nor can the public see which projects were funded by the governor. In order to get that information, one must receive permission from individual lawmakers before legislative staff can make it public. Over several months in 2019 New Mexico In Depth did exactly that, eventually getting permission from 97, or 87%, of the Legislature’s 112 lawmakers to see how they each allocated public dollars under their control — a significant leap from the 25% or so of state lawmakers that gave permission for a similar reporting project in 2016. Lujan Grisham

Gallup Police Department Facebook page

In 2019, Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, was one of eight Albuquerque lawmakers who provided funds for Gallup police vehicles. He ought to be able to explain to his constituents why he allocates money outside his district, he says, when arguing for the capital outlay transparency. first time a near complete picture of which projects were earmarked by which lawmakers and the governor in 2019. The Legislature in 2019 provided www.nmindepth.com $933 million for infrastructure across the state (the governor vetoed about $8 million before signing the bill). Lawmakers decided, individually, gave permission to see projects she meted out $60 million.) funded as well as those decided by The response appears to rebut an how to spend $300 million of that, state agencies, each of which amount often heard assertion that many law- with senators dishing out $3.57 million each, and representatives each to about a third of the almost $1 bil- makers are not in favor of making controlling $2.14 million. The govlion infrastructure bill. (New Mexico the information public. ernor doled out $248 million. And In Depth was not able to get similar Perhaps more importantly, New Continued on 22 ➤ information on the legislation that Mexico In Depth assembled for the

To see the 2019 capital outlay allocations of individual lawmakers, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state agencies, visit




ew Mexico has been ranked 50th or 49th in child well being for every year since 2012. Evidence has shown that a continuum of high quality, comprehensive, well-coordinated services for children from 0 to 5 and their parents can yield a 13% return on investment. Using national evidence about the range and quality of services needed, with evidence- and experience-based assumptions regarding uptake rates, we estimate that the unmet need in New Mexico for early childhood education is $405.6 million per year. Key and necessary assumptions include: increased access to programs, higher quality services than current funding supports, enhanced referral services to help families obtain needed services, investments to support early childhood educators in improving quality, and resources to evaluate programs and insure accountability. These assumptions are central to providing more children and families with high quality services like home visiting, enhanced referral services, child care assistance, pre-kindergarten, workforce development and accountability and evaluation.

Status of services

Even with the recent increases in funding, New Mexico currently provides early childhood education services to only a small proportion of children and families. With the high prevalence of risk factors among NM families, dealing with only a small number of families will not achieve individual and societal goals for all children at risk. The number of children funded to participate in early childhood services declined by 12% from FY16 to FY17. Among families with children under 3 years of age, only 5% are receiving home visiting services, although almost 60% of these children experience at least one Adverse Childhood Event, a risk factor for future problems. Only one in three (31%) of eligible children in working low income families who receive Child Care Assistance are in high quality (levels 4 or 5) child care settings. In addition to the care provided in other registered or licensed settings, many more children are receiving care in unlicensed and unregistered settings. In these settings, families have no access to Child Care Assistance funding, and staff members have no support for professional development. Among children

Fulfilling the unmet n 3 and 4 years of age, in FY17 only 29% received any pre K services, and only 8% participated in full day Pre K services. Only .5% of children received preventive services from NM Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) in FY14 to prevent child abuse, a rate 8 times lower than the national average of 4.3%. In addition, strong evidence concludes that the quality of the services must be high to achieve the documented cost-benefit returns in reducing government spending and personal costs in child abuse, special education, substance abuse, school performance, and juvenile justice. Current funding levels have not consistently provided the resources needed to develop and maintain high quality, evidence-based programs for all.

New Mexico families

Recent investments have not been adequate in reach and quality to address key risk factors across the state. Since 2012, the state of New Mexico has been 50th or 49th in the country every year for factors related to child well being, according to the national Kids Count report. These risk factors and their consequences are extremely costly to New Mexico children, families, communities, and the state in crucial human, societal, and financial ways. According to the Legislative Finance Committee,


New Mexico In Depth • 2020 LEGISLATIVE SPECIAL EDITION factors and their consequences for New Mexico’s families and children. Fortunately, there is striking consistency across national and state level recommendations about the importance of the prenatal to five-year-old age timeframe and effective approaches to these issues. Professor James Heckman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has analyzed the cost benefit ratio for investments in human capital, with this conclusion: Heckman and his colleagues’ recent research on the lifecycle benefits of a continuum of high quality, wrap around early child programs for disadvantaged children ages 0 to 5 found a 13% return on investment. The approach must include parental involvement, high quality full day care, home visiting, and other services in a well-coordinated “scaffolding” of developmental support. Savings were found in the children’s rates of high school graduation, employment, income level, health status, and other factors, and in mothers’ economic prospects.

need of our children poverty is “one of the most reliable risk factors predicting negative outcomes for children.” One in three (34%) of NM children under age five lives below the poverty level, compared to a national rate of about one in five (22%). Eighty two percent of NM births are funded by Medicaid. Adverse Child Events (ACEs) measure child abuse and household dysfunction factors that have been shown to have negative impacts on child development. At least one ACE has been experienced by 59.4% of New Mexico children. In 2014, there were 2,918 children between the ages of 0 and 4 who had confirmed cases of maltreatment by Child Protective Services. The NM rate of child maltreatment continues to worsen, and is 62% higher than the national rate. The NM rate of repeat child maltreatment in 2016 was 12.3%, over twice as high as the US average of 5.4%. This rate also continues to worsen over time. Only 24% of fourth graders are reading at grade level, the lowest rate in the country. Among low-income children, only 18% are reading at grade level. Twenty eight percent of high school students do not graduate on time, placing New Mexico at the 47th rank in the country.

National consensus

It is clear that much needs to be done to address these risk


The National Governors Association’s 2013 White Paper on Increasing Third-Grade Reading Proficiency called out a major research and policy gap: “Starting at kindergarten is too late” to start learning and to impact third grade proficiency levels. They note: “Intervening before age 3 is more advantageous than doing so later.” The group then recommended five policy actions: 1) Expand access to high-quality childcare, pre-K, and full day kindergarten; 2) Engage and support parents as partners in early language and literacy development; 3) Equip professionals providing care and education with the skills and knowledge to support early language and literacy development; 4) Develop mechanisms to promote continuous improvement and accountability. 5) Adopt comprehensive language and literacy standards and curricula for early care and education programs and kindergarten through third grade. Despite increases in federal and state funding for early childhood education over recent years, the remaining level of unmet need is great. Too many of New Mexico’s children and families remain in high-risk situations without the support of evidence-based programs. While there are some preliminary encouraging results in home visiting services, pre K, and incentives to increase child care quality, the reach of these services is inadequate. We also must insure that the quality and intensity of services is appropriate to reach the societal and individual impacts and cost-benefits demonstrated in the literature. In New Mexico we have the resources we need to build a world-class early childhood system via the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department that will usher New Mexico into a new era of excellence. CHI St. Joseph’s Children does not accept government funding.


22 Continued from 19 ➤ state agencies distributed the rest, $385 million. Given a large surplus in 2020, the infrastructure spending will likely be substantial as well. Pork barrel secrecy

The secretive process lawmakers undertake to allocate money under their cwontrol has drawn much criticism in recent years. Governors, news outlets, advocates and quite a few lawmakers, several of whom have introduced bills year after year to make such information public, have denounced keeping secret the funding choices of individual lawmakers. In the coming legislative session, state lawmakers will get another shot at changing the law to make the information public as a matter of course, said Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque. Rue has sponsored a public disclosure bill in the Senate since 2016, and Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, has sponsored similar legislation in the House. “We allow individual legislators to make allocations; the public has a right to know who is making allocations to what,” said McQueen in an email. A spokesperson for the governor told NMID Lujan Grisham supports capital outlay transparency, although it was unclear in late December if she would champion the disclosure measure during the short 2020 legislative


nity meetings or via emails, as some lawmakers who gave permission said they had already done.


Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen



Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo


Chaves, Lincoln, Otero

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho



Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque



Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque



Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup


Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque



Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell


Chaves, Eddy, Otero

Sen. Gabriel Ramos, D-Silver City


Catron, Grant & Socorro

Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants


Cibola, Socorro, McKinley & Val.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales


Cibola, McKinley, San Juan

Bernalillo & Sandoval

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming


Dona Ana, Hidalgo, Luna & Sierra

Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque



Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque



Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe


Santa Fe

budget session. While efforts to pass the transparency legislation since 2016 have repeatedly floundered in the state Senate, most lawmakers from that chamber gave permission for legislative staff to release the information to New Mexico In Depth, without hesitation. The positive response from legislators came after yet another effort to disclose lawmaker spending decisions died on the Senate floor late

in the 2019 session. Several made a point of telling New Mexico In Depth how important it is to be transparent with public money. Just 15 of the 112 volunteer lawmakers in the Legislature didn’t respond to a series of emails and phone calls asking for information, or outright refused. It’s possible the 15 lawmakers did post their funding on their social media accounts or provided the information to constituents at commu-

Rural versus urban, or not

Arguments for keeping infrastructure spending decisions private often come from rural lawmakers who say they face different challenges than urban lawmakers. In a nutshell, the arguments go, rural lawmakers have greater demands from dispersed constituents that span multiple counties than do urban lawmakers who generally only represent part of one county. Those greater demands mean lawmakers have to make hard choices between projects, and those choices could come back to haunt them during political campaign season if they were public. Another argument is that some lawmakers want to share credit equally with colleagues with whom they pooled resources to fund regional projects. But both the capital outlay data gathered by New Mexico In Depth this year, and the process of gathering it, challenge such assertions: The 15 lawmakers who withheld or did not respond with their capital outlay are split almost evenly between multi-county and single-county districts. And the majority of them represent urban constituents. The majority of rural lawmakers in the Legislature gave permission Continued on 23 ➤

RICHARD ROMERO (505) 453-1986 r.romero@comcast.net

New Mexico In Depth • 2020 LEGISLATIVE SPECIAL EDITION Continued from 22 ➤ without hesitation for their capital outlay choices to be made public. Lawmakers representing multi-county districts take widely varied approaches to distributing money. One funded 100 projects. A group of five in the northwest pooled their money for fewer than 10 projects. Arguably, Republican lawmakers have been the most vocal about transparency, for and against. Republican members of the House of Representatives, most of whom represent rural or semi-rural districts, voted unanimously as a caucus before the legislative session ended to release their capital outlay publicly. In response to an email from New Mexico In Depth asking for the information, several Republican House members said they thought it was already public, and indicated that they would make sure it was released. “A letter has already been provided to Legislative Council authorizing the release of this information,” wrote Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas. “Please try again. … I believe we corrected the problem,” she followed up. Within days, legislative staff sent every Republican House member’s list to New Mexico In Depth. House Republican Minority Leader Rep. Jim Townsend, who represents a rural district in New Mexico’s southeast corner, said it’s not difficult to understand why he and his caucus members were unanimous in voting

to release the information “by district and by legislator.” “It’s taxpayer money,” Townsend said. “I would not be able to defend why it should not be public. My goodness, it’s taxpayer money. I don’t know how else to say it.” The majority of Republican senators were responsive as well. “I believe that my constituents are entitled to know how I have allocated the money that basically comes from the southeast part of New Mexico,” said Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, in an email. But the most vocal opponent of transparency is also a Republican. Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell has opposed transparency legislation during committee hearings and in 2019 offered amendments to the transparency measure on the Senate floor that gutted the bill. The legislation required that a searchable list of capital outlay projects be published by the Legislature online, including the names of legislators or the governor who allocated a portion of each project, and the individual amounts. Pirtle’s first amendment to exclude how much each lawmaker allocated was adopted by the Senate. As his second amendment to strip a requirement to publicly disclose individual lawmakers’ names seemed likely to pass, Rue pulled the bill from consideration. Pirtle told New Mexico In Depth that he didn’t favor releasing the information so that “it doesn’t become personal.” Lawmakers prefer to take

“Ethics should mean what [former PRC] Commissioner Jason Marks has publicly and vocally advocated for… accountability through as much disclosure as possible.” —Albuquerque Journal, 4/4/2010


1011 Third Street NW | Albuquerque, NM 87102 505.385.4435 | lawoffice@jasonmarks.com

credit equally for projects funded collectively, he said, referring to a common practice of lawmakers pooling their funds on projects. Pirtle declined to provide his capital outlay choices to New Mexico In Depth. “These are taxpayer dollars, and we as legislators are stewards of those dollars,” said Rue, the GOP sponsor in the Senate of the transparency legislation. “We have no right to spend that money without the public being aware of how it’s allocated.” Democratic lawmakers were also responsive to requests for their capital outlay decisions. Just three Democratic House members, all who represent urban districts, refused or didn’t respond to our requests, along with six Democratic senators. Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said he sponsors just about all of the capital outlay requests presented to him by constituents, which ensures the projects are included in a list that all lawmakers can consider for funding. Being able to direct money to projects is one of the “only perks” of

23 being a lawmaker, he said. But since he can ultimately fund just a small number, he doesn’t want to make his decisions public, he told New Mexico In Depth. “They might say, why didn’t you pick me?” he said. “Some of them are even personal friends in the district. So it becomes difficult for me. … Politically it could go against you.” McQueen said the potential for the information to be used against a lawmaker politically is like anything else lawmakers do. “Using that logic you could make the argument that our votes on legislation should be kept secret lest we be subject to political attacks,” he said. “That would be as absurd as the current secrecy around capital outlay is.” Trujillo said if he wasn’t retiring after the 2020 session, he might be persuaded, noting that things have changed since he first joined the Legislature in 2003. “We’re more and more being transparent,” he said. “Now the philosophy is to be transparent.”



Low pay a stumbling block for quality childcare By SYLVIA ULLOA New Mexico In Depth

Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces homebased child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children. “My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter. I was the little girl who took care of all the little kids at the parties and planned all the activities. That was me,” she said. Masiwemai has a bachelor’s degree in early education and speaks three languages. She exudes warmth and nurturing when reading to toddlers, sounding out words and getting down on the floor to interact with them. She’s exactly the type of worker New Mexico wants educating and caring for its youngest children. But low wages ensure that child care can’t be a long-term career path if she wants to reunite with her daughter and add to her family. Masiwemai’s pay dilemma is nearly universal here and throughout the United States: A child care worker who loves children but can’t make ends meet on the low wages. “One thing we do have in this state is a shortage of highly qualified early childhood workers, and the reason we have that shortage is we’re not willing to pay,” said Kelly O’Donnell, a research assistant professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of New Mexico. “You can’t take care of an infant like you flip burgers, right? But we pay them

Courtesy of Michelle Masiwemai

Michelle Masiwemai takes a selfie with some of the children she cared for at Best of the Southwest Daycare in Las Cruces. the same amount.” Those low wages stand in the way of New Mexico’s ambitious goals for universal PreK and affordable, high quality childcare. A high priority for state officials is to raise wages while not making child care centers go bust or asking parents to shoulder more of the costs. To that end, the Children Youth and Families Department has launched a pilot program that puts more money in workers’ paychecks, and hopes the results will persuade state lawmakers to take the program statewide in 2020.

Status quo: Expensive, tough, low

Licensed child care is expensive for parents and tough to make profitable for private child care center operators. Low wages are built into the business model, as are hundreds of millions of dollars in annual subsidies from New Mexico taxpayers. The median wage for New Mexico child care workers was $9.49 an hour in 2018, according to the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions. Staff turnover is a major dilem-

ma for operators. Workers who do stick around and receive a degree in early childhood education are often snapped up by public schools, which offer pay that’s nearly three times higher with benefits and summers off. Paying more is difficult for childcare centers, which cobble together revenue to make their businesses viable. Parents — and even many lawmakers — may not know how heavily public dollars support child care providers. It’s so large that the Continued on 25 ➤


industry might best be described as quasi-public. In 2018, the state paid an average of $550 a month for 21,300 children, for a total of about $116 million in child care assistance, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. The state is spending significantly more now, projecting $149 million in 2020. “Because of our high rates of poverty, government payments are the primary driver of revenue and of the business structure,” said O’Donnell. “This not a competitive marketplace at all.” Take Valeria Holloway, for instance, who runs Best of the Southwest Daycare out of her home in Las Cruces and hired Masewemai to help care for infants and toddlers. Holloway got into the home childcare business nearly 20 years ago in Virginia, where most of her clients paid out of pocket. Here in New Mexico, though, the state pays for 10 of the 14 children she cares for, through childcare assistance payments based on family income. Augmenting those childcare assistance dollars are other sources of public money and programs. “Everything that New Mexico has offered, I’ve got,” she said. Because Masiwemai has a bachelor’s degree in early education, Holloway applied for a state wage incentive that paid her $2 more per hour. Holloway won a state grant that pays for curriculum planning time. New Mexico also provided her a licensing and early education consultant and it runs mandated training for her workers. Best of the Southwest, like licensed childcare providers nationwide, also gets federal food assistance. The state also pumped $31.5 million in PreK money into private centers in 2019. Those are coveted dollars because providing preschool and care to 3and 4-year olds is more profitable. That age group requires fewer work-

Because of our high rates of poverty, government payments are the primary driver of revenue and of the (child care) business structure. This not a competitive marketplace at all.

Continued from 24 ➤

— Kelly O’Donnell, research assistant professor in the School of Public Administration, University of New Mexico

ers than caring for infants and toddlers. For that reason, a 2019 legislative proposal to move all 4-year-olds to public preschools caused a panic among private childcare providers who also teach preschool because those children help keep their businesses viable. Despite public support and the low wage structure, last year Holloway earned just $33,723 for providing care 11 hours a day, six days a week — and that was after earning the highest, 5-star rating that comes with higher reimbursement rates. Other childcare centers benefit from nonprofit — read tax-free — status. Some are housed in churches, universities and businesses where they might get free or low-cost rent and utilities, health benefits and more to minimize expenses. Child care centers that do pay their workers on par with public school teachers must make up the difference. One prominent nonprofit New Mexico provider closed the gap through charitable donations. Katherine Freeman is CEO of the United Way of Santa Fe, which runs a five-star NM PreK and child care center. Freeman pays her preschool teachers the same as teachers at the local elementary school and offers a generous health insurance package. But to make the math work, United Way kicks in about $600,000 a year. Higher wages are needed not only

for basic fairness, but also to build the childcare workforce, said Freeman. The state in June contracted with the policy arm of the UWSF to help put together a strategic plan for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department. “There would need to be more money in the system, and it needs to be figured out within the economic ability of a state like this,” Freeman said. Unspoken subsidies

The public childcare assistance money, programs and charity available to childcare providers aren’t the only way New Mexico’s childcare system is subsidized. There’s another subsidy, largely unspoken: government programs that help low-wage workers. Masiwemai and her fiancé, Rodney Wince, came to Las Cruces from an international school in China where

25 they met and where she taught Kindergarten. They were looking for better economic opportunities and a place to raise Masiwemai’s daughter and start a family together closer to his own family in Mississippi. Wince got a job as a supervisor at a local call center. Masiwemai found the job at Best of the Southwest. A 28-year-old with an athletic build, Masiwemai was working toward a personal fitness certificate, and enjoys singing and writing music. They are passions she incorporated into her interactions with children. “It’s such an emotional job. Because these kids end up becoming our family,” Masiwemai said. “I treat them as if they were my own. I think parents would appreciate that. For me personally, I do believe that what we do is definitely worth a lot more than we get paid.” But even after earning Las Cruces’ minimum wage of $10.10, plus the $2 per hour education incentive pay from the state, and after factoring in Wince’s paycheck, the couple couldn’t afford health care and was burning through savings built up in China. They qualified for Medicaid and food stamps. Masiwemai’s plight was similar to half of all childcare workers who rely on government assistance programs — like Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and New Mexico’s version of it, the Working Families Tax Credit. Continued on 26 ➤



Sylvia Ulloa/New Mexico In Depth

Valeria Holloway, owner of Best of the Southwest Day Care Center in Las Cruces, teaches preschool. She uses a curriculum that she learned in Virginia but is hoping to get a contract for New Mexico PreK. Continued from 25 ➤ Raising wages: a pilot program

When the state passed a law earlier this year that will raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022, alarm bells went off across the industry at the effect the raise will have on the cost of running a childcare center. Grappling with simply raising the wages of entry-level workers will be hard enough. But providers say they will need to raise wages not just for new workers, but across the board. That’s because as the minimum wage goes up, it will put new workers close to or at the same pay level as more experienced workers. To fairly compensate and retain workers with advanced skills, they’ll need to raise their wages too, which

will be difficult given thin profit margins. The dilemma has caught the state’s attention. Las Cruces’ new $10.10 minimum wage made the city a good choice for a state pilot program. Designed to put more money into child-care workers’ paychecks without raising costs for parents who don’t qualify for childcare assistance, the goal is two-fold: to lessen the minimum wage increase’s impact on business owners and to increase staff retention by making salaries more attractive. The state is using wage supplements rather than raising the amount they pay centers per child because it doesn’t want to make childcare more expensive for families that make too much to qualify for childcare assistance. Because so many children in

New Mexico are subsidized, centers often use the state childcare assistance rate as the basis for what they charge all families. “We’re really careful when we raise rates,” said Alejandra Rebolledo Rea, director of Early Childhood Services for CYFD. “It can be a financial burden.” The pilot went into effect in Las Cruces this summer and is only available to providers that accept child care assistance. A second test is being launched in southeast New Mexico, Rebolledo Rea said, where wages are higher and child care centers face stiff competition for workers because of the oil and gas industry. The department plans to request $15.6 million from the Legislature during the 30-day session to take the program statewide.

“Financially, it seems that it’s helping. It’s making sense for programs and they’re starting to see the difference,” Rebolledo Rea said. The help comes too late for Masiwemai, though. She and her fiancé left Las Cruces for Austin, Texas, at the end of the summer because they couldn’t make it on their wages here. After seeking work in early childhood there and finding the same low pay, Masiwemai decided to leave the field. “I feel bad because I really like working with kids,” she said. “But the thing is I also have bills to pay.” So she took a full-time job as a bartender. It gives her time during the day to work on a music career, another dream of hers. And her wages have tripled, Masiwemai said.







Universal education beyond K-12 is within reach


f there is one word to four-year research project Grisham and for Elizabeth Groginkeep an eye on in the on child care access, in sky, her newly named secretary of 2020 legislative sespartnership with the gov- the new Early Childhood Education sion, that word is “uniernor’s Children’s Cabinet and Care Department. Look for versal.” The notion that and state early childhood state analyses and policy approacheducation should be uniadministrators. The projes that track progress toward universal – available not just ect, which is funded by versal access to services for 3- and By Hailey to the families in greatest the U.S. Administration 4-year-olds, including New Mexico need or the first to line up Heinz for Children and Families, PreK, Head Start, and high-quality for scarce spots – underwill attempt to deepen our subsidized child care. scores many discussions happening understanding of why many eligible These efforts move past looking in Santa Fe, from infancy to higher low-income families do not access at PreK in isolation, and consider education. child care subsidies, what policies other publicly funded services for Perhaps the highest profile exam- might help them take advantage children in each community. In ple of this universal ethos is Gov. of the program, and whether child support of these discussions, UNM Michelle Lujan Grisham’s well-pub- care assistance meaningfully supCCPI has created a dashboard that licized proposal to pay tuition and ports families in moving toward shows early childhood services by fees for New Mexico residents at all self-sufficiency and achieving their county. The dashboard shows slots in-state public colleges and univer- personal goals. against estimates of need by county, sities. This proposal, which will be While universal child care reto support the state’s efforts toward considered during this legislative mains a distant aspiration given its a strategic plan for early childhood. term, may serve as a test case of the uncharted nature, universal access This strategic planning proLegislature’s support for the goverto education for 4-year-olds appears cess has been supported by a $5.4 nor’s approach, and how politically closer than ever, and will be a high- million federal Preschool Developviable universal access is in 2020. ly visible policy milestone for Lujan ment Grant, which has paid to host At the other end of the age spectrum, the governor in September teased the notion of working While universal child care remains a distant aspiration toward universal child care, saying at an early childhood event, “Why given its uncharted nature, universal access to education can’t we make New Mexico the first for 4-year-olds appears closer than ever, and will be a state in the nation to have universal, free child care?” She went on to highly visible policy milestone for Gov. Michelle Lujan say, during that talk, that universal Grisham and for Elizabeth Groginsky, her newly named child care would be an expensive and difficult undertaking, but that secretary of the new Early Childhood Education and New Mexico should look for ways Care Department. Look for new state analyses and forward. We at the University of New Mexpolicy approaches that track progress toward universal ico Cradle to Career Policy Instiaccess to services for 3- and 4-year-olds. tute (UNM CCPI) are beginning a


community conversations, survey families and the early childhood workforce, synthesize past reports, and roll it all into a plan for the state to follow. Look to see whether planning from that process results in any legislative asks, and how it informs the shape of the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department under Groginsky’s leadership. New Mexico, along with the rest of the United States, is now accustomed to the idea that education for children K-12 is universally provided, although the Yazzie-Martinez funding lawsuit has given the state much to consider about how that system can better serve all of the state’s children. During the upcoming session and throughout Lujan Grisham’s term, we are likely to find ourselves addressing whether and how to make education universal outside the bounds of K-12, in both the earliest years and in higher education. Hailey Heinz is a research scientist at the University of New Mexico Cradle to Career Policy Institute, which conducts applied research and data analysis across the educational continuum. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




Transforming education will take bold leadership, deep investment


ew Mexico is a It is time to think bigger We must also tackle the problem rich state. We’re and truly transform the of having 8,000 New Mexico classrich with a cultureducation system. First, rooms that don’t have bilingual or al diversity that exists in our schools must embrace TESOL (Teaching English to Speakfew places in the world. the cultural and linguistic ers of Other Languages) endorsed We’re rich with a multiheritage of our diverse teachers and begin delivering bilingual and multicultural communities as a founliteracy initiatives and educational By Patricia heritage that makes our dation for all learning. programs that support New Mexico young people more com- Jiménez-Latham We should recognize our children to become proficient in petitive in a global society. diverse heritage for the two languages. The evidence shows We’re rich with potential. asset it is. This will require major dual language programs benefit New Mexico has an opportunity investments to provide a multiculboth English language learners and tural curriculum, bilingual educanative English speakers and help like never before to finally fix our tion and professional development prepare all students for our globalpublic education system so our programs for educators and admin- ized world. New Mexico should be students can succeed. But the hard leading the way. truth is that we won’t get there if the istrators. It also means developing capacity in all of our higher educaTransformation means commitstate Legislature doesn’t commit to tion institutions to respond. ting to the funding necessary to the programs and funding needed We must address the state’s teach- provide instructional materials, to make changes. There is ample research to show what works to de- er shortage with strong recruitment technology and STEM opportuniand retention plans. New Mexico is ties in every school, in every district liver better outcomes for students. short more than 600 teachers. One across the state, to begin to undo It’s time to take action. major barrier is that salaries are low the historic inequities in resources This past year, New Mexico inbetween urban and rural districts. creased the education budget, but it compared to surrounding states. was only the tip of the iceberg. Our schools are dealing with decades There is a lot to be optimistic about, especially the of disinvestment and systemic deficiencies that have landed New unique opportunity we have right now to transform Mexico at the bottom of national our outdated and insufficient education system. With markers for educational success. This dire situation led families the state seeing record high surpluses in revenue of and school districts into court and more than $800 million each year, there is no excuse resulted in a historic ruling that found New Mexico’s public educato wait in investing big in our children. We need that tion is insufficient and unconstitu$800 million and more in additional school funding tional. Now, the proposed increase for to provide equitable funding for all children, reach the governor’s public education budget is a paltry 5%. This isn’t universal pre-K, pay our educators what they deserve, enough to provide sufficient educaand change our education system from the ground up. tion to all of our students.


To close achievement gaps, transforming education means finally investing in universal pre-K, as early childhood programs are one of the best ways to improve educational opportunities. New Mexico is indeed a rich state, for so many reasons. There is a lot to be optimistic about, especially the unique opportunity we have right now to transform our outdated and insufficient education system. With the state seeing record high surpluses in revenue of more than $800 million each year, there is no excuse to wait in investing big in our children. We need that $800 million and more in additional school funding to provide equitable funding for all children, reach universal pre-K, pay our educators what they deserve, and change our education system from the ground up. We can invest in what works and set the course for shaping our future leaders. It’s time for our lawmakers to make it happen. Patricia Jiménez-Latham is the coalition manager for Transform Education NM, a broad coalition of teachers, education and tribal leaders, parents and other stakeholders. More information at www. TransformEducationNM.org. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




2020 legislative session offers plenty of promise — and peril


n economic policy But the GRT remained education budgets, ERB deserves a terms, New Mexsimilar look. unchanged in any sysico’s 2019 session Both systems are seriously untemic way. Rates remain was a disaster. Massive derfunded, a situation which must high and the problem expansion of film subsibe addressed. They also need to of embedding multiple dies, new mandates on taxes into the final cost of be updated to better serve the 21st electricity generation, a good or service – called century workforce. Colorado and By Paul J. Gessing “pyramiding” – remains other states have successfully done a higher minimum wage, tax hikes and 12% unchanged. With around this. New public employees in New spending growth were Mexico should be offered more por$800 million in surplus the lowlights. table benefit options outside of the available and both Gov. Michelle Of course, with fast-growing oil traditional pension system, which Lujan Grisham and Speaker Brian production and a strong national rewards longevity as opposed to Egolf making noise about tax reeconomy, New Mexico’s economy form, now is the time to act. While those who may want to “give back” remains strong and surplus revenue for a few years and then move on to details may vary, the general model will again be available when the other career goals as younger workoutlined in bipartisan legislation Legislature convenes. ers wish to do these days. Both types introduced by Rep. Jason Harper, At the Rio Grande Foundation, of employees should have retirement R-Rio Rancho, and Sen. John Arwe see numerous opportunities for options that work for them. thur Smith, D-Deming, remains the bipartisan reform, but 2020 could Finally, there is the issue of occulogical framework for reform. also result in another spending pational licensure reform. BiparAnother bipartisan reform opbinge that does nothing to address tisan legislation (SB 385) made its the systemic policy problems facing portunity should include public way to the governor’s desk in 2019, employee pensions — specifically our state. only to be vetoed. We hope to make PERA and ERB. Lujan Grisham The most obvious opportunity is another push to address the unnecgross receipts tax reform. This must should be applauded for naming a essary obstacles licensing often puts task force to take a serious look at involve lowering rates and elimiin the way of willing workers and PERA, which covers most public nating taxes on services provided willing customers/employers. workers except those in the eduby contractors and other business While there is potential common cation system, who are covered by inputs. Purchasing services (like ground for economic reform in ERB. Given its weaker financial bookkeeping and web hosting) 2020, there are numerous serious from out-of-state providers eludes issues, particularly with the govposition and importance to public the GRT, which is applied at rates above 7.5% in most New Mexico communities. While this oil boom is driven by production as opposed Sadly, in 2019 the Legislature eato prices, all good things eventually come to an end. gerly imposed GRT on several businesses, consumers and industries. What happens when oil prices or production decline These included nonprofit managers due to environmental concerns, the global economy, of Los Alamos National Lab, nonprofit hospitals and purchases made technological advances or some other unforeseen change? over the internet.


ernor’s proposal for “free” college. Here are two: While the oil boom has perked up the state economy in recent years, job opportunities are still more diverse, plentiful and generally better-paying in neighboring states. Absent economic reforms (see GRT discussion above), how can we be sure that “free” college will actually benefit New Mexico’s economy? New Mexico’s biggest education challenge is the performance of its K-12 system. Absent much more ambitious reforms than those currently being discussed to raise student outcomes, “free” college won’t do much good. While this oil boom is driven by production as opposed to prices, all good things eventually come to an end. What happens when oil prices or production decline due to environmental concerns, the global economy, technological advances or some other unforeseen change? This 30 day session will go a long way toward determining New Mexico’s economic future. Paul Gessing is president of the Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




We won’t concede in our struggle to ensure democracy for all


think about Stacey zations have pushed for give up fighting and concede the benefit from keeping New Mexicans Abrams a lot. The poor, sick and hungry. early education to be fully fact that we cannot win. former Georgia state There is no magic formula for funded. Other organiThe reality is that we aren’t going representative turned New Mexico – rebuilding our state zations and community away. We aren’t conceding our vigubernatorial candidate members are pushing for sion for what we know New Mexico and creating prosperity will take captured the imagination K-12 to be fully funded. can be. We aren’t fading quietly and years, just as it took years to plunge of the entire country in Yet others are pushing hoping that if we’re seen as reason- us to the bottom of every list. But By Andrea J. 2018. Not only would if we don’t start, then we will have for Medicaid for All, able enough, those senators who Abrams have been the conceded our future generations land and water protechave been obstructing progress will Serrano first black woman to and that is unacceptable. Those tion and animal rights. find a middle ground with us. serve as governor in the United who wish to obstruct progress must Higher wages, eliminating barriers The truth is, it is reasonable to States, she also took on a machine to reproductive rights (including expect a state flush with oil and gas concede their notions of absolute that had suppressed voters for gen- abortion), lower taxes for working royalties to ensure that all children, power, or they can concede their erations — mostly black and other seats in 2020. families and pushing corporations particularly indigenous, black and people of color. Their choice. to pay their fair share. brown children, have early childAbrams never shied away from One would think that after being hood education and a functional the challenge, and she ran a camAndrea J. Serrano is executive stonewalled, continuously, by the school system. It is reasonable to paign with full knowledge of likely director of OLÉ in Albuquerque. state Senate that our groups would expect that New Mexicans have voter suppression targeting voters concede. One would imagine that health care and clean water, and it’s The views expressed in this column of color. are solely those of the author and we would take whatever pittance reasonable to expect that the peoThere are several examples of the the Senate decides is enough and be ple we elect are responsive to our do not represent or reflect those of ways votes were suppressed (outOLÉ, its board, staff or members of creative with how we spend it. One needs, not those of their well-condated voting machines and unNew Mexico In Depth. would expect our communities to nected donors and insiders who counted votes in black and brown communities, for example), and while Brian Kemp was eventually awarded the office of governor in Georgia, Abrams never conceded We aren’t conceding our vision for what we know New Mexico can be. We aren’t — she instead created a whole new fading quietly and hoping that if we’re seen as reasonable enough, those senators organization to fight voter suppression and has become even more who have been obstructing progress will find a middle ground with us. The truth influential in politics. is, it is reasonable to expect a state flush with oil and gas royalties to ensure that all Abrams kept going and has not conceded the fight to ensure dechildren, particularly indigenous, black and brown children, have early childhood mocracy is for everyone. education and a functional school system. It is reasonable to expect that New I think about Abrams as New Mexico is getting ready to enter our Mexicans have health care and clean water, and it’s reasonable to expect that the legislative session. I think about the people we elect are responsive to our needs, not those of their well-connected donors fights that lie ahead and the test of will that comes with those fights. and insiders who benefit from keeping New Mexicans poor, sick and hungry. For 11 years, community organi-





More progressive tax system, investments in working families should be at top of agenda during upcoming legislative session


s has been often and gas prices, the state said in the past must diversify revenues year, the 2019 with an emphasis on suplegislative session was perporting working families, haps the most productive while asking more from ever for working families. big corporations and the From $446 million in new wealthiest among us. money for public eduBy Eric Griego There are several procation, to fully funding posals that the Legislature Medicaid, and increasing should take up to make spending on early childhood, the our revenue picture more sustain2019 session was a banner year. The able and progressive, and help workgovernor and legislative leaders ing families stay out of poverty. The should be proud of the progress first is increasing the Working Fammade in the 2019 session. ilies Tax Credit (WFTC) from 17 to Despite these crucial wins for 20% of the federal Earned Income children and families, there is unTax Credit (EITC) and broadening finished business to truly move the its coverage to help New Mexico’s dial for all New Mexicans. In the children and families. While the 2020 30-day tax and budget session, WFTC was increased in 2019, it we urge lawmakers to focus on was watered down in the Senate, generating long-term, diverse, suswhich was a missed opportunity. In tainable revenues and making some addition, raising the rate for the top key investments in New Mexico’s personal income tax bracket, elimchildren and families. inating the current deduction for Sustainable revenues and fair taxes

With all the new revenue from the current oil and gas boom, lawmakers will be tempted to either cut taxes or “hold the line” on some very regressive taxes. That’s a mistake. Massive personal income tax cuts in 2003 and corporate income tax cuts in 2013 promised more jobs, but instead brought a more unfair and unpredictable revenue base for the state. With the volatility of oil

capital gains and reducing the 2013 corporate income tax cuts will help stabilize long term revenues for the state, as well as make our tax system more progressive. Investing in early childhood

Early childhood funding was increased in the 2019 session including $24.5 million for New Mexico Pre-K funding, $9.5 million for childcare assistance and $1.7 million for home visiting programs. These are all much needed investments in our children, but they address only a fraction of the demand for comprehensive, high quality early care and education and the workforce we need to implement a robust system. In New Mexico, 2018 per pupil spending in the K-12 system was about $9,500. In comparison, for the roughly 120,000 children under age 5 in New Mexico, the

The governor and legislative leaders should be proud of the progress made in the 2019 session. Despite crucial wins for children and families, there is unfinished business to truly move the dial for all New Mexicans. In the 2020 30-day tax and budget session, we urge lawmakers to focus on generating long-term, diverse, sustainable revenues and making some key investments in New Mexico’s children and families.


total amount of state and federal spending is less than $319 million per year, roughly $2,700 per child. To double that per child spending – and half of what we spend for K-12 – would cost an additional $300 million. One way to get there that has been stymied by conservative Senate Democrats is amending the state Constitution to earmark 1% of the soon-to-be $20 billion permanent fund for early childhood investment. This $200 million recurring revenue stream would represent a critical investment in the next generation of New Mexico children and a game-changer for our economy and working families. There are numerous other worthy proposals likely to be on the legislative agenda that will make New Mexico safer and more prosperous. However, a laser focus on increasing and diversifying long-term revenues and investing in working families will pay the biggest longterm dividends for our state. Eric Griego is state director of New Mexico Working Families Party, a growing progressive political organization that fights for an economy that works for all of us, and a democracy in which every voice matters. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




Ethics commission requires sufficient funding, strong rules


he newly empowits start-up costs – evaccording to the National Conferered state Ethics erything from building ence of State Legislatures, carries a Commission is a website to leasing and current budget of $1.4 million.) furnishing an office – and One thing the coalition has been scheduled to accept comhire hearing officers, exploring is the creation of a fundplaints beginning on Jan. investigators, a general ing source for the commission that 1, 2020. In the lead-up counsel, administrative is divorced from legislative allocato that date, the commisBy Kathleen Sabo staff, etc.? (In comparison, tion to diversify funding and presion has been meeting the Judicial Standards vent budget cuts that could come regularly and has hired Commission, with seven on a whim and severely undermine an executive director and full-time employees and a much the commission’s effectiveness. general counsel, crafted proposed smaller jurisdictional footprint, was The commission’s day-to-day acrules, and appeared before the allocated $869,500 for FY20.) tivities will be governed by admininterim Legislative Finance ComNMEW and other coalition memistrative rules. Proposed rules have mittee on budget matters. bers have been attending commisbeen drafted and published and Experts have noted that perhaps sion meetings and inquiring about public comments were due Dec. 1. the most crucial period in the life of both a supplemental budget for By the time the commission opens an ethics commission is early in its FY20 and the commission’s FY21 its doors Jan. 1, those rules will be existence. The public, after having budget request. The latest informa- finalized. NMEW and its coalition fought for the commission’s fortion is that the commission’s execpartners have worked to ensure mation, is trusting, and opponents utive director will be submitting a that the rules are aligned with the are emboldened to diminish the supplemental budget request for commission’s enabling legislation commission’s power, transparency $350,000 to $380,000 for FY20, and and ensure public participation in and funding. As we approach both a FY21 budget request of $1.15 milcommission processes. the 2020 legislative session and the lion. (Connecticut’s ethics commisTo educate the public, NMEW opening of the commission’s doors sion, with a staff of 13 and similar created a chart laying out the comfor business, New Mexico Ethics jurisdictional responsibilities, plaint process that you can view Watch (NMEW) and other good government organizations, as members of the coalition New Mexicans We can expect that there will be vigorous discussion for Ethics, are keeping a watchful eye upon the commission and those during the upcoming legislative session, if not who might seek to undermine it. disagreement, regarding the commission’s budget What are we looking at? Chiefly, three things: requests. The coalition and the public must keep their • Budgetary sufficiency eyes on any attempt to weaken the commission by • Proposed rules • Public education regarding the cutting or restricting the commission’s budget. The complaint process commission deserves the opportunity to create a wellAdvocates were dismayed when only $500,000 was budgeted for the funded, competent presence and to be given a fair chance commission for fiscal year 2020. to demonstrate effectiveness, fairness and strength. How would the commission afford


at www.nmethicswatch.org, under the Reports and Materials tab. The New Mexicans for Ethics coalition will be developing additional public education materials and campaigns. It is essential that the public knows how and where to file complaints and the progression and timing of the complaint process. We can expect that there will be vigorous discussion during the upcoming legislative session, if not disagreement, regarding the commission’s budget requests. The coalition and the public must keep their eyes on any attempt to weaken the commission by cutting or restricting the commission’s budget. The legislation enabling the commission had bipartisan support and was well thought out. The commission deserves the opportunity to create a well-funded, competent presence and to be given a fair chance to demonstrate effectiveness, fairness and strength. To that end, NMEW will oppose attempts to alter the jurisdiction of the commission in the upcoming legislative session. Kathleen Sabo is executive director of New Mexico Ethics Watch, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in government and public life in New Mexico. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




Ethics, elections, judiciary top priorities for Common Cause


thics, elections and staggered judicial elections our judiciary are throughout the state and foundations of a prevented judicial races strong democracy here in from being subject to election or retention simultaNew Mexico. As such, we neously. have prioritized legislaCurrently, all judicial tion that will support our By Heather candidate races, either for new state Ethics CommisFerguson retention or election are sion, protect our courts placed on one ballot for and judges from outside voters to consider. In November influence and strengthen free and 2020, all 94 District Court judges fair elections. will be up for retention at the same time. The constitutional amendEthics ment to stagger these races would Over 75% of our state’s voters allow for one-third of these judges supported the creation of an indeto be placed on the ballot for rependent ethics commission in the tention every two years, which not 2018 election. The newly appointed only allows for a better evaluation commissioners have worked tiresystem of our judges, but also prolessly to promulgate rules and regvides a shorter more-legible ballot ulations to carry out their mandate, for the voters. which takes effect this month when they begin their important work. Judiciary New Mexico’s lawmakers need to At present, our state’s public continue to heed voters and restore financing system may only be used the public’s trust by fully fundby candidates for state Supreme ing the commission. We support Court, Court of Appeals and Public the $1.2 million requested by the Regulations Commission. As the commission for adequate staffing, cost of judicial election campaigns resources and office space. continues to inflate, candidates for Elections Choosing state court judges is a consequential decision for the voters. Our state courts have a profound impact, both here and on our entire country’s legal and policy landscape. In August 2019, the New Mexico Supreme Court struck down the provision of the Non-Partisan Judicial Retention Act that would have

lower court positions are required to raise ever-increasing amounts of money, which also requires an ever-increasing number of campaign fundraising events and forces members of the judiciary to spend their valuable time raising private contributions. Several years ago, Common Cause New Mexico conducted a study, interviewing former judges, justices, attorneys and current district judges regarding judicial campaigns. The results showed that the vast majority of our judiciary and members of the bar wanted to see our state’s public financing program expanded to include all judicial races. Under the current system, judicial candidates are in a strange position. They are obligated to raise campaign funds from individuals and corporations, but at the same time, they must ensure that they do not know which donors contributed to their campaigns. This is done in order to protect them from any potential conflicts of interest and to comply with judicial ethics. The precarious position — raising mon-

Expanding our public financing program to include district court judges is the best way to ensure our judges are protected from potential conflicts of interest and allows them to focus their time on their court’s case dockets, not raising large campaign funds to run their elections.


ey from donors and then turning a blind-eye at the same fundraising events when donors’ checks are handed over to their campaign treasurer — is absurd. Expanding our public financing program to include district court judges is the best way to ensure our judges are protected from potential conflicts of interest and allows them to focus their time on their court’s case dockets, not raising large campaign funds to run their elections. Additionally, without having a public financing option for all of our judicial district court races, our state’s judiciary remains vulnerable to spending from outside special interest groups that recently have been pouring huge amounts of dark money into judicial elections across the country to influence them for their own benefit. It’s time to protect our judiciary and allow judges to use our state’s public financing program. Heather Ferguson is executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. It works to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and to empower all people to make their voices heard as equals in the political process. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




New Mexico leads on accountability, but more can be done


decade after state citizens online access to sentences to see proposed changes. lawmakers adoptthe same datasets legislaTo make the legislative process ed the Accounttors review before setting more accessible to the public, we ability in Government public policy. also encourage lawmakers to reAct, New Mexico remains Leaders should aspire quire the legislative website be upat the vanguard of a toward engaging citidated with meeting times and room movement using data to zens in the process in a numbers in real time. Meetings announced in the wee hours from inform, shape and direct By Peter St. Cyr more informed manner. After all, an Open Data the chamber floor and not posted public policy. approach contributes online make it impossible for citiThe act requires that to more than just efficiency and zens to follow a bill and violate the agencies be held accountable for service delivery objectives – it also spirit of the Open Meetings Act. delivering efficient and effective improves government transparency, The Legislature has made imservices to New Mexicans and that helping citizens hold their governprovements to its website and they restructure programs that ments to account. allows citizens to track bills, but don’t achieve stated goals. Even better, Open Data will help public access to the legislative Last year, lawmakers took another state government achieve and retain process would benefit by having step to ensure taxpayer money is legitimacy and rebuild financial relevant video clips posted on each used well when they passed Sen. bill’s page along with a transcription Sander Rue’s Evidence and Research trust with citizens. We applaud the legislature for with text from the bill’s hearings. Based Funding Act, which requires taking steps to make the process of Lawmakers should also require evaluation of programs using data lawmaking more accessible to the a data feed from the website of to ensure taxpayer dollars are all legislation. Currently, it costs allocated to programs that yield the public. Over the years, lawmakers have adopted rules to stream and thousands of dollars a year to hire best results. archive video of committee meetprofessionals to compile real time The laws are transforming the ings and floor debates. information from the website. mindset of lawmakers and have This year, we encourage the Other states simply provide the created a pathway toward collaboSenate to adopt an Amendments data feed to citizens at no cost. It’s a ration between the Legislature and executive agencies, but they simply in Context rule already used by the simple thing to do. House that givens citizens a way to For years, problems with the don’t go far enough, yet. read bills in a single color-coded Inspection of Public Records Act To boost positive outcomes for document without having to use a have been on journalists and open communities around the state and separate sheet to insert words into government advocates’ radar, but improve the quality of life for New Mexicans, we encourage lawmakers to adopt an Open Data Act, create Open Data Standards, and support To boost positive outcomes for communities around the the appointment of a chief data officer. state and improve the quality of life for New Mexicans, Lawmakers already have a framewe encourage lawmakers to adopt an Open Data work for using data in their budget process that identifies priorities and Act, create Open Data Standards, and support the highlights areas in need of more appointment of a Chief Data Officer. oversight. Now it’s time to give


the issues have not been dealt with head on. Rather than worry about opening a Pandora’s Box and sending the state back to the dark age, Open Access intends to lead from a position of strength and work with lawmakers to clarify copying costs, define what makes a public records request a bureaucratic burden and find additional funding the attorney general suggests is needed to close the enforcement gap. We’re glad the General Services Department has started posting lawsuit settlement agreements online and supports a complete repeal of a state statute that keeps those agreements (settled with taxpayer funds) secret for a minimum of six months. The public has the right to know how individual lawmakers allocate capital outlay money. And the attorney general must be funded sufficiently to prosecute public entities who willfully disregard public records policy. It’s time for New Mexico to take open government to the next level. After all, knowledge is power and in a democracy the power belongs to the people. Peter St. Cyr is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist and executive director of Open Access New Mexico, a nonpartisan, nonprofit that facilitates data-driven citizen engagement. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




Let’s grow New Mexico’s economy the right way by adding cannabis to mix of sustainable industries


ust as we can rely upon can also lead the nation Mexicans in the state. 300 days of sunshine in reinvestment into Young people, community coland a windy spring communities that were leges, startup businesses, local most harmed by cannabis communities and the state will all each year, we know an oil prohibition. With an embenefit from legalization jobs and bust will follow the boom. phasis on equity, we can revenue. That’s just one reason For decades, our state has and should support local why, in New Mexico, legalization talked about diversifying By Emily communities with a small has overwhelming public support. New Mexico’s economy In a statewide poll conducted in Kaltenbach businesses preference to flatten out the boomover out-of-state, national November, 73% of New Mexicans and-bust cycle, with little supported cannabis legalization. success. But now we are seeing real marijuana conglomerates; bring job training and the opportunity to Support reached 90% among progress toward building our econwork in this new industry for those Democrats, and 81% among Indeomy the right way. From film to with prior marijuana convictions; pendents. And fully 49% of Repubclean energy to ecotourism, major and train students for this industry licans supported cannabis legalizanew industries are taking hold in so we can help keep young New tion in the poll. New Mexico, and doing so in a way that helps local communities and homegrown businesses the most. With film and TV, clean energy like wind and solar, It’s time to add cannabis to the mix of new, sustainable industries, ecotourism and cannabis, we can diversify our economy, with the potential to bring in an smooth out the boom-and-bust cycle, support New estimated tens of millions in tax revenue at both a state and local Mexico businesses, and help keep young people in our level, and create more than 11,000 state. Legalization is a matter of when and how, not if. new jobs for New Mexicans. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have New Mexicans are ready to compete with neighboring passed laws legalizing cannabis. states. And New Mexicans want to do legalization New Mexico is already losing business and jobs to Colorado in this the right way, with an equity lens that puts local flourishing industry. communities and New Mexican families first. With legalization, New Mexico



It’s time to grow New Mexico’s economy, the right way. With film and TV, clean energy like wind and solar, ecotourism and cannabis, we can diversify our economy, smooth out the boom-and-bust cycle, support New Mexico businesses, and help keep young people in our state. Legalization is a matter of when and how, not if. New Mexicans are ready to compete with neighboring states. And New Mexicans want to do legalization the right way, with an equity lens that puts local communities and New Mexican families first. Legalizing cannabis for adult use is an opportunity to grow New Mexico, keeping us true to our values and the things we care most about: the wellbeing of our children, community health and the future of our state. Emily Kaltenbach is New Mexico state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




Lawmakers must consider public safety before legalizing cannabis


hen the New year. Pro-legalization advocates quickly Mexico SherWhy on earth would we dismiss these numbers, pointing iff ’s Associawant to add to that probout that marijuana use among lem, we ask. youth has decreased 14%. What tion met last August to In states that have they failed to say is that use among discuss marijuana legallegalized cannabis, propyouth, 12 and under, remains 40% ization, the consensus was erty crimes, assaults, child higher in Colorado than the nationthat recreational use was By Glenn neglect, domestic abuse, al average. During a recent traffic all but a guarantee here. DWI and homeless popstop in Sierra County, a search Hamilton Although most sheriffs ulations are all on the revealed several pre-packaged oppose legalization, we rise. We expressed those concerns items of marijuana labeled “Passion agreed to forward our concerns, at the public safety meeting of the Grape,” “Wacky Watermelon,” and hoping lawmakers would take a cannabis group in September. But “Pink Lemonade.” If the explosion hard look at several states that have with the exception of a recommen- in popularity of flavored vaping legalized cannabis and learn from dation for additional funding for pens in schools are any indication, the impact to public safety. public safety, many of our concerns we can expect a similar burst in Enter the governor’s cannabis appeared to fall upon deaf ears. popularity with “designer weed.” working group. This committee, There are now six volumes of Has the push for legalization made up primarily of pro-legaliza“The Legalization of Marijuana outpaced the clinical research availtion advocates, discussed aspects of in Colorado: The Impact. ” These able? Is the product put out there legalized marijuana in New Mexico in-depth reports, prepared by the for public consumption safe to conover several meetings. After those Rocky Mountain High Intensity sume? Are we destined to relive the meetings and analyzing an avaDrug Trafficking Area task force “Big Tobacco” lawsuits when canlanche of data from various sources, (HIDTA), highlight the public nabis users are burdening our state’s many law enforcement professionsafety impacts in Colorado from health care system with respiratory als and the majority of New Mexico legalization. Many law enforcement illnesses and related ailments? sheriffs continue to oppose legislaprofessionals in Colorado will tell One of the most concerning tion. you those reports reflect what’s public safety issues in the push for Why? Because drugs impact comhappening in their communities. legalization is the lack of a testing munities. Ask any law enforcement Calls to poison control help-lines instrument and a “per-se” limit for professional and they will tell you have increased 47% due to children those suspected of driving under drugs and alcohol drive criminal consuming marijuana edibles and the influence of marijuana. A blood activity and are the primary cause emergency room visits related to alcohol limit of (.08) has been adfor the destruction of individual opted across the nation. However, lives and families within their com- marijuana use have jumped 54%. munities. Unlike many advocates for legalization, law enforcement professionals see this destruction up close and personal. The DWI Ask any law enforcement professional and they will tell problem in New Mexico is a prime you drugs and alcohol drive criminal activity and are example of how a legal vice can become a public safety crisis. New the primary cause for the destruction of individual lives Mexico continues to make the “top and families within their communities. 10” worst in the nation list every


no similar standard exists for marijuana. Most prosecutors will admit prosecuting driving while under the influence of drugs is extremely difficult for this reason. Just like alcohol, marijuana affects different people at different levels. The writing is on the wall. Legalizing recreational marijuana will worsen issues associated with substance abuse. Ask anyone attending a court-ordered rehabilitation program for the treatment of drug use (methamphetamine, crack cocaine, heroin, etc.) and they will tell you, “I first started using alcohol or marijuana.” These are a few of the concerns New Mexico sheriffs have. As medical cannabis programs expand, we should prioritize in-depth scientific research on recreational use and public education, not legalization. Marijuana is not harmless, and legalizing it comes with potential harms and societal impacts. With respect to the legalization of recreational marijuana, New Mexico should strive to be last, not next. Sheriff Glenn Hamilton is a 25 year veteran of the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office. He was first elected to the office in November 2014 and is serving in his second term. In addition to his duties as the Sierra County sheriff, he serves as the legislative liaison to the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth.




Thank You‌

Thank you to our generous supporters in 2019: Allison Kennedy Owen Allyson Siwik

Elisabeth Jennings Elizabeth Glenn Elmer Jackson Amanda Nezzie Emma Ulloa Andrea Walters Fernanda Santos Andrew and Katie Stone Gabriela Ibanez Guzman Barbara Larson Griffin Palmer Bennett Baur Heather Gaume Bill Daumueller Henry Shonerd III Brian Egolf Ilsa Garduno Brian Jones Jack Ferrell Brian Sanderoff Jaclyn Allton Bryant Furlow James Baca Catherine Moon James Harrington Charles & Kristin Hogge James Terr Charlie Donaldson Jane Asche Charlotte Roybal Jane Braithwaite Cheryl Coyle Janice Langdale Cheryl Landgren Jarratt Applewhite Chris Mechels Jason Marks Christine Everett Jeff Dickson Christine Mink Jen Rios Claudia Isaac Jenni Cloud Clifton Chadwick Jimmy Allen Colleen Keane Joanne Nichols Cristina Olds Joel Levin Dave Maass John Badal David Hughes John Daniel David Jennings John Griffith David Kaim John Lawrence David Marash John Prince Denise Lin Joseph Alcorn Diane Garrity Joyce Blalock Don Kurtz Judith Bartlett Donna Thiersch Kara Carlisle Dylan Smith Karen Whitlock Edward Lujan Karin Verlaine Rhodes

Kate Noble Katherine Bruell Katherine Childress Katherine Gustafson Keith Tipton Klaus Mueller Kristelle Siarza Laura Dunn Lauren Welch Lawrence O'Hanlon Lee Reynis Leslie Lakind Linda Siegle Lucas Peerman Lynne Delucia Millea Maria Ragucci Marjorie Childress Mark Duran Mary Ellen Capek Mary Ellen Carroll Mary Thompson Michael Browde Michael Melody Michaelangelo Allocca Michelle Croasdell Mickey Curtis Mike Rogers Miriam Stewart Nancy Harbert Nelwyn Nations Nikki Hooser Norman Gaume Norton Kalishman Ona Porter Pamela Blackwell Pat Lohmann Patricia Hudnall

Patrick Davis Patrick Woolsey Peter Ossorio Peter Rankaitis Philip Larragoite Pilar Berguido Ralph Estes Rebecca Shankland Richard Mason Richard Romero Rick Tefteller Rita Heisey Roberto Rosales Robin Martin Grenchik Rudy Nyhoff Russell Mink Ruth Childress Ruth Hoffman Sandra Fish Sarah Williams Shannon Freedle Sharon Shoemaker Sheree Livney Stuart Bluestone Susan Carter Suzanne Jamison Tammy Fiebelkorn Teresa Leger Terry Schleder Trip Jennings Trish Lopez Valeria Holloway Virginia Murphy William Kass

Special thanks to:

The Department of Communication and Journalism and the New Mexico News Port at the University of New Mexico. The Department of Journalism and Media Studies at New Mexico State University.

Sincere gratitude to our sponsors and funders:

Adelante Now Foundation Albuquerque Community Foundation Allegra Carpenter Law Firm Cannabis Legalization Working Group CHI St. Joseph's Children City of Las Cruces People Helping People Common Cause New Mexico Conservation Voters of New Mexico Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Institute for Analytic Journalism Isleta Casino Jason Marks Law Office KOB Channel 4 Laguna Development Corporation Los Alamos National Lab McKnight Foundation Montclaire State University Foundation National Education Association New Mexico Working Families Office of the State Auditor Public Service Company of New Mexico Research and Polling Inc. Richard Romero Consulting Rival Strategies Santa Fe Community Foundation Santa Fe County Santa Fe Film Office Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity Thornburg Foundation W.K. Kellogg Foundation




Profile for New Mexico In Depth

New Mexico In Depth 2020 Legislative Special Edition  

New Mexico In Depth 2020 Legislative Special Edition