By Susana Martinez
Our state has seen some hard times – no one knows this better than New Mexico families.
A little more than four years ago, New Mexico faced a record-level budget deficit. State government had grown accustomed to wasting taxpayer dollars on things like luxury jets. Thousands of New Mexicans were out of a job, the result of one of the worst national recessions in history, coupled with massive federal budget cuts. And our leaders continued to turn a blind eye to a failed education system.
Today, while we still have our challenges, New Mexico’s future looks much brighter, and I believe that our best days are ahead.
I believe in a New Mexico that offers the best schools, good-paying jobs and a state government that lives within its means while funding our top priorities – like education and health care for those most in need. During the last three-and-a-half years, we have begun to see real improvement. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we must continue to build on our reforms.
To get there, we need a state government that is fiscally responsible. This was far from the case four years ago. In fact, while most families were tightening their belts, my predecessor took state government on a spending spree and grew it by 50 percent in eight years. On the day I was sworn into office, I inherited a deficit of $450 million.
Some politicians – including some in my own party – thought they had the right solution. “Why go through all the trouble? Just raise taxes,” they told me. “Sure, you promised you wouldn’t. But voters won’t remember what you said during the campaign.”
That’s the difference between a politician and a leader. Leaders stick to their word; politicians say whatever it takes to get elected. And I was not about to go back on my word. So we chose a different route. We zeroed in on waste and abuse. We sold the state’s luxury jet, capped salaries of cabinet secretaries and decreased the number of political appointees.
We eliminated that deficit, in a bipartisan way and we did it without raising taxes. We’ve had three straight years of budget surpluses and we’ve doubled the size of our state’s savings account. Now, we’re ranked seventh in the nation in budget health.
We’ve come a long way.
But putting our financial house in order – without burdening small businesses – was only our first step in getting New Mexico on a new course. New Mexico faces challenges unlike any other state; we are the single most reliant state in the country on federal dollars – the result of politicians putting all of our eggs in one basket for far too long. Because of this reality, not only did we get hit with the national recession, but with federal budget cuts, too.
New Mexico can no longer rely on Washington politicians, and be held hostage by the dysfunction in our nation’s capital. We must create an economy as diverse as our state, driven by private-sector growth and small businesses.
And that’s exactly what we’re doing today. By cutting taxes and helping small businesses grow, we are laying the foundation for strong private-sector growth. We’ve done things like pass the bipartisan jobs package. We’ve cut taxes 24 times. And we’re focused on helping small businesses grow. For example, we created the Office of Business Advocacy to cut through government red tape and have saved or created 2,000 jobs through this program alone.
Already, we’ve begun to see the fruits of our labor. Ernst and Young now says New Mexico has the lowest tax burden in the West for manufacturing. Export growth went from 38th in the nation to first just two years ago, and exports to Mexico are at an all-time high. We’ve also created 32,000 private-sector jobs since January 2011.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we must continue our efforts to grow our businesses and attract companies to our state.
The key to our future is a great education system. I want to make sure that every struggling student gets the help they deserve. That’s why we told Washington, D.C., that we didn’t like its “one-size-fits-all” approach, and received a waiver that allows us to do things differently, putting more control back into the hands of teachers and local school districts and providing parents with more information about how their schools are performing.
Not only are we spending more money on education than ever before, but we’re putting those dollars where they matter most: in the classroom for things like reading coaches, textbooks and tutors to help our struggling students. Our graduation rate is improving faster than any other state and our Hispanic students lead the nation on Advanced Placement tests.
Still, I believe we can do better. We can start by ending the practice of passing kids from one grade to the next when they can’t read.
In a little less than four years, we have shown what is possible when we work together for New Mexico. I’ll be the first to tell you that it hasn’t always been easy and we still have much to do. But we must continue building on our reforms and not turn back to the failed policies of the past.
If my opponent is elected, we will take a giant step backward. When times get tough, he’ll raise taxes – he’s done it before and says he doesn’t regret it, which means he’d do it again. And under his education plan, Washington politicians will gain control of our schools again and bureaucrats, not teachers, will make decisions about what happens in New Mexico classrooms.
Now is not the time to turn back. It has been my honor and privilege to serve as New Mexico’s governor for the past four years, and I believe that by working together, tomorrow will be better than today.