Who’s to Blame for New Mexico’s Great Depression?

Herbert Hoover.

The name is synonymous with indifferent right-wingery in the face of desperate need for “progressive” change.

Last week Alan Weber, who in 2014 failed to secure the Democratic nomination to run against New Mexico’s incumbent governor, wailed about “the Herbert Hoover policies of the Martinez administration.” That kind of rhetoric will only intensify, as the 2017 session gets underway, and disputes over fiscal and economic-development policies mount.

Weber and his ilk are crafting a narrative they think will help them achieve legislative victories. Their tale is simple: New Mexico’s many woes are due to the policies pursued by Susana Martinez. The answer to the state’s dismal condition is to go back to the future — and a repeal of Martinez’s misguided cut in the corporate tax, part of “an old ideology that gained prominence 40 years ago,” is a good place to start.

But how much change has the governor brought to public policy in New Mexico? Looking at the record, it’s quite clear that it’s been mostly business as usual in Santa Fe since January 2011, when Martinez took office. Here’s a brief list of the major reforms that conservatives, libertarians, and free-market voices advocate at the state level, and how they’ve fared in the last six years:

Tax Cuts: Martinez did sign a modest reduction in the corporate tax. But the levy has never been much of a revenue-producer for the state. Most workers in the Land of Enchantment’s private sector are employed by firms that do not pay the corporate tax, but pass their income through to owners/investors. Many states survive, and even thrive, without corporate taxes at all.

Tax/Expenditure Limits: Alone in our region, New Mexico has no limit on the revenue that its taxes can raise, and no cap on how much state government can spend. And it’s probably not a coincidence that expenditures in the Land of Enchantment are out of control. As the graph below, total spending dwarfs that of our five neighbors.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau data

Right to Work: Need this even be mentioned? We know that ending compulsory unionism can be a major factor in boosting economic development. But RTW is dead, dead, dead in Santa Fe — at least until a new crop of lawmakers is elected.

School Choice: The value of a skilled workforce is another driver of investment and job creation. Recognizing the failures of a monopolized, unionized education “system,” many states have moved toward K-12 competition. New Mexico has not joined in. Its charter-school law is weak, vouchers are nonexistent, and no tax credits are available for donations to scholarship-granting charities. Even the left-leaning Brookings Institution gives the state’s largest school district a “D” on its “Education Choice and Competition Index.”

Electricity Deregulation: Choice works with your power bill, too. But over a decade ago, an attempt to allow competition in electricity was repealed, and there does not appear to be any interest in reviving the law. In addition, a “renewable portfolio standard,” which mandates the use of expensive and intermittent sources of electricity, is the law in New Mexico. It’s at 15 percent now, and is slated to increase to 20 percent (!) in 2020.

Marijuana Legalization: Social conservatives might remain opposed to decriminalizing cannabis for personal use, but libertarians and many in the right’s fiscal community recognize the budget and economic benefits of ending a “war” that can’’t be won. Governor Martinez is opposed to legalization — a position she shares with many Republicans and Democrats, it’s worth noting.

Healthcare: In perhaps the worst public-policy decision made in the Land of Enchantment in the last few decades, Martinez fell for the claim that a radical broadening of Medicaid eligibility would be both affordable and serve as a “stimulus.” Her decision surely pleased the state’s liberals, but we now know what a disaster expansion has been.

So you make the call: Has the red-state model really been implemented under Susana Martinez? Errors of Enchantment certainly doesn’t think so. Maybe the answer to New Mexico’s crisis is to finally implement a policy programme geared toward limiting government, spreading opportunity, and fostering individual responsibility.