New Mexico is facing a catastrophe threatening our economy, and public health and educational infrastructure, but our Legislature and governor are doing nothing. The news media has been derelict in its duty to alert the public.
New Mexico is a one-horse state.
We have relied solely on oil and gas revenues to fund government, assuming that high prices would endure. For every dollar the price drops per barrel, state government loses $10 million. Prices remain low, leaving state government hundreds of millions of dollars short for the foreseeable future. Yet elected officials are burying their heads in the sand, hoping nobody will notice the impact of draconian cuts. The budget, which was passed and signed, calls for $80-$90 million in cuts to Medicaid. Because Medicaid is federally matched, the total pending cut to services is $400 million.
The budget also calls for hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to our already failing education system. If the drop in oil prices is not addressed by plans to raise revenues, future years will see even steeper cuts.
The Rio Arriba and Taos Community Health Councils applaud Gov. Susana Martinez for having the foresight and courage to expand Medicaid. We urge her to keep her promise.
Most New Mexico counties have seen steady job losses to every economic sector with the exception of health care. It is the fastest and the only growth sector, now accounting for 25 percent of all Rio Arriba wages.
The Legislature has mandated steep cuts to public health. Two years ago, the governor and Legislature intercepted county taxes designed to fund hospital indigent care in order to finance hospital Medicaid rate increases. Today, the Legislature and governor propose keeping the tax but eliminating rate increases for hospital indigent care.
The legislature also proposes slashing funding that maintains primary care clinics by 50 percent over two years, arguing that it is no longer needed because of increases in Medicaid revenue (which they are eliminating).
The pending cuts are so steep, they threaten to collapse our clinic and hospital system.
Medicaid expansion has produced hidden economic benefits that will continue for generations.
New Mexico ranks second in the nation for overdose drug deaths, while Rio Arriba leads the nation in deaths from heroin. Outsourcing jobs and long commute times appear to be a primary cause of the spread of the epidemic from generation to generation. We empty communities of healthy adults during the workday. Rio Arriba and Taos are resource-poor with few after-school opportunities. Substance users often find themselves homeless and aimless. Because families take them in, they are alone with children during the day.
Building health care infrastructure brings good jobs back to the community, insuring that parents are accessible. It also ends the cycling of individuals suffering from substance use disorders through our jails and prisons, breaking the cycle of intergenerational use.
Twenty years ago, The University of New Mexico conducted a study of the Rio Arriba economy. At that time, 51 percent of wages were earned through retail and service minimum wage jobs. The second-largest sector of our economy, and the only sector paying a living wage with benefits, was the 28 percent that made up local government.
The lack of a private sector resulted in patronage, causing people to elect local officials based on whom they would hire. The expansion of health care has built a strong private sector in Northern New Mexico, resulting in local governments that are elected based on ability to implement sound policy. Schools are improving as a result.
Slashing health care funding will throw New Mexico back into the dark ages.
There are many proposals other than income tax that could meet our need for revenue. We could postpone tax cuts to the wealthiest New Mexicans. We could temporarily fund education through the Permanent Fund. We could increase taxes on sugar, alcohol or cigarettes (which would produce a healthier state and increase revenues).
By refusing to consider any options other than budget cuts, our governor and Legislature are creating a public health crisis comparable to the damage done to the people of Flint.
We urge them to reconsider.
Lauren M. Reichelt is coordinator for the Rio Arriba Community Health Council. She wrote this on behalf of the council, with the support of the Taos Community Health Council and its coordinator, Monica Griego. Both councils have approved this statement.