In the best of times and the worst, there is one thing that’s absolutely critical to our well-being and future: education. Looking ahead to a potential special legislative session, this is the absolutely critical area where funding must not be cut. Period.
Make no mistake — education in New Mexico has been in crisis for decades. Because of the quick damage the COVID-19 crisis has done to New Mexico’s economy, our state has the unfortunate task of figuring out where to cut the budget, but cuts to public education are not needed to balance this year’s budget.
In fact, any cuts to education would needlessly set our state back, hurting our children and families. Hard fought pay raises for our teachers, scheduled to take effect July 1, would stimulate local economies and help maintain a semblance of normalcy in these times. The most recent education budget was the first time we had finally come back to pre-2008 recession levels.
While many, including me, feel the budget still missed the mark when it comes to the needs of New Mexico students, we must now fight to keep that critical funding, or risk turning to an even darker period for students and educators across the state. New Mexico has significant reserves, estimated by the Legislative Finance Council to reach $1.8 billion by the end of June.
Given New Mexico will likely need to draw down reserves in future years, I agree that it would be wise to not spend all of it now, but this is a rainy day if I have ever seen one. I urge the same leaders who created these reserves to use them wisely for their intended purpose so that any reductions don't cause harm.
Legislators and the governor are wisely waiting to see how much federal COVID-19 assistance could backfill state revenue losses caused by the pandemic. Before making any cuts, let’s see how much of the budget hole can be filled with help from the federal government, and then see what’s left and how we can cover it without damaging education and hurting another generation of young New Mexicans.
Sadly, our state has a poor record when it comes to digging itself out of financial holes. We have in the past embraced cutting education, health care and other vitally needed investments, investments in our people, and the end result has never been worth it.
Our state was among the slowest to recover from the 2008 recession, in large part due to self-imposed fiscal “suffering” measures that were saddled on New Mexicans. There is a potential future where our state can emerge healthy out of the pandemic and oil and gas roller coaster ride, physically and economically, and with a better-educated population.
Let’s not repeat the fiscal suffering mistakes of the past. I urge my former colleagues in the Roundhouse to instead choose to maintain investments in our people, in our young people. Let’s choose to deliver us all to a brighter future.