Last week’s column, wherein I pointed out that venality, greed, and self-absorption on the part of our elected officials were primarily responsible for New Mexico’s stagnation, got some attention. And correctly some criticism. A lot of it, from residents also tired of the general crappiness of the Land of Enchantment, presented a general challenge: Okay Miss Smarty Pants, thanks for spewing out a thousand words of clever snark. Now offer some actual ideas to get us out of this rut.
So let’s start at the top: our government agencies run by the executive branch. Upon taking office, I’d like to see a governor issue some directives to all departments, regardless of whether they have designated cabinet secretaries yet or acting leaders awaiting appointments. At the start, these would be requests for information that could include:
How do you measure the effectiveness of your agency on an ongoing basis? What are your current operational metrics (calls taken, caseworker caseload, applications approved, system downtime, procurement cycle time, etc.), how often are they reported, and to whom?
Show me your strategic plan and interim goals and milestones.
How many unfilled positions are in your department, and why?
Any department or agency unable to provide this information would receive help from the state budget or the governor’s discretionary funds, depending on the depth of the discrepancy, to get to the stage where this level of basic accountability and functionality is achieved. Cabinet secretaries would be required to report out on status of these basic benchmarks regularly, and these reports would be available to the public.
Then there’s the Legislature. Seems like in a surplus year (or a year we are swimming in unspent federal stimulus cash) we could create a permanent investment fund to fund a paid Legislature. Expecting public servants to raise $100,000 every two to four years to be awarded a high-visibility, high-risk, unpaid volunteer job is unreasonable for the demands placed on our legislators. You wonder why it seems lawmakers are passing laws to benefits themselves? They must. To serve in the Legislature you must be: independently wealthy, retired, or bent. Or some combination of the above. You can’t ask them not to take advantage of a law they passed when they have to make a living outside public service.
A paid legislature with perhaps a 90- or 120-day session every year could be invested in the state’s success. Cannabis legislation wouldn’t be a mad scramble. The budget wouldn’t be a “you want it bad, you get it bad” proposition each year. Key legislation, like the establishment of a state ethics commission, might not take more than a decade to make it to a floor vote.
Then, there’s the business climate. I’ve been trying to set up a non-profit for eight weeks now. There is no consistent guidance on the Secretary of State website to register a non-profit corporation. This should not be a hard thing. I have just mailed in my third attempt because of conflicting guidance from the SOS website; they did, however, cash the check with my filing fee on the first try. The process to start any enterprise here must be welcoming, simple and hassle-free. This will take efforts to reform our tax code, the Public Regulation Commission, and transform the customer service experience at any state office serving businesses.
Economic development and business incentives are popular catchphrases to throw around when we talk about improving the business climate. Everyone wants investment in the first, but when the economic developers suggest the second, hackles are raised. Here’s reality: Every state is offering financial incentives to attract new businesses. Get over it. Is it corporate welfare? Maybe. But if we want to keep up with our neighbors—just pull even with our neighbors—New Mexico needs to sweeten the deal to private businesses. Pretty views and a reasonable cost of living just aren’t enough.
Especially when you look at our public school statistics. This is another place where my ideas make my friends on the right and left part ways with me. Early childhood investment is crucial. Children need to be ready to meet other kids and start learning when they reach kindergarten; many here are not. Children who cannot read at the end of third grade should not be advanced to the fourth. They need special intervention and should be held back. There’s much more we need: special education that is more than an IEP (individual education plan) and a babysitter until the child is 18; honest preparation for the workforce that includes vocational training for students who want it; classroom spending that supports our teachers with the resources and supplies they need to provide their students a top tier learning environment rather than making do and getting by. This wish list is almost endless.
I’m just one pundit with limited column space and innovative capacity. To the point of last week’s column, I want to reiterate what will bolster and grow New Mexico isn’t a guaranteed minimum income or ensuring residents can have as many guns as they want: It is a state government and elected leaders focused on improving the everyday lives of everyday New Mexicans. I hope you will join me in asking our candidates how they plan to accomplish this.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.