The social, economic and environmental challenges facing New Mexico are daunting, and while we made progress during the recently concluded legislative session to overcome them, it is imperative that all of us policymakers and "ordinary" New Mexicans alike redouble our efforts this summer and fall to turn New Mexico around.
A profound change is needed, and needed now, in how we address the challenges we face. Our previous approach of making incremental policy changes to address immediate problems, seemingly without regard to the long-term implications and too often for the sake of political expediency, must end. Our shared vision of creating jobs, stabilizing government services and improving the quality of life in New Mexico must be the foundation for our policy decisions.
The months leading to the 2014 legislative session present a perfect opportunity for legislators, community and business leaders and New Mexicans of all walks of life to join together to make this vision a reality. About two dozen legislative committees will soon be created to study a range of issues that have an impact on New Mexicans' lives. Many of these committees will meet in communities around the state, giving lawmakers an opportunity to see for themselves the challenges facing New Mexico and how state policies affect efforts to overcome those challenges and giving New Mexicans who cannot easily travel to Santa Fe the opportunity to meet face-to-face with policymakers.
It is more important than ever that we have productive dialogues. Never before in the long history of New Mexico have so many diverse and difficult challenges converged to threaten our future. Our economy still hasn't recovered from the Great Recession and is now being threatened further by mandatory, automatic federal budget cuts. The worst drought in decades threatens businesses and the quality of life of whole communities. Poverty, poor health care and low academic achievement threaten our children's futures before they even have a chance to grow up.
In the coming year, we must conduct an in-depth review of the most pressing issues facing New Mexico and consider changes in law and policy that will help us flourish. State, local and community leaders must all be involved to ensure that our vision has broad support and draws upon the best and broadest selection of suggestions for improvement.
The state of New Mexico's finances will be a key. We must closely review and monitor the impacts of the recently enacted tax package and other tax credits and deductions to ensure that the policy considerations that drove the decisions to enact those tax policies remain valid today. Just as we cannot afford to stick with tax policies that put New Mexico businesses at a disadvantage, we cannot afford to give so many tax breaks that we hinder our ability to pay for better schools, improved roads and infrastructure and assistance to New Mexicans who need help the most.
We must also work tirelessly to reduce the tax burden on New Mexico's working poor. New Mexicans who have jobs but still live in poverty make up a sizeable portion of our population. This situation cries out for a more balanced approach to our tax policies that will help those families meet their daily needs.
The mandatory federal budget cuts beginning this year will hurt New Mexico more than other states, given our economy's reliance on federal spending. The potential impact isn't known, but the news so far has been discouraging. State policymakers, who wisely ensured that the state's general fund balances would have a large cushion to soften the effects of cuts in federal spending, must continue to monitor this situation closely.
In order to begin to turn things around, we need to begin working toward a number of goals. We must develop coordinated health care and educational systems that maximize services to all. We have to develop a jobs strategy for all parts of the state and reform our capital outlay system to maximize the wise use of every dollar spent. Part of this reform should include coordinated short- and long-term strategic and master planning. We apply significant scrutiny when developing our operational budget the same should occur with our capital outlay dollars and vetting process.
Also, this past session began to highlight how critical water resources are to all New Mexicans. We need to continue to invest whatever additional time and money are necessary to ensure that we have adequate management and infrastructure to meet our needs.
Growth and economic development are also vital components to this discussion. We can still improve on our approach to attracting the movie industry to New Mexico, and a racetrack in northeastern New Mexico should help attract jobs to that area. We should also begin to pursue a new federal mission to boost our contribution to federal initiatives like renewable energy, which represents a huge potential for growth and job creation, particularly in a state like New Mexico that is rich in renewable resources such as wind and solar energy.
The challenges New Mexico faces may be the most daunting that most of us will face in our lifetimes, but the opportunities are also boundless. We have a chance to create a diverse and vibrant economy, supported by a first-class education system, to implement wise land and water use planning to ensure that our environment and our agricultural communities last for generations to come and to ensure that, as a state and as individuals, we have the financial resources to care for our sick, needy and elderly.
Today is the day to seize this opportunity.
Pete Campos is a Democratic member of the New Mexico Senate.