How tax cuts for the powerful are behind the backlogs

by James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for ChildrenAugust 30, 2016

To be safe, healthy, and financially secure is something we all want for ourselves, our children and our families. New Mexico can be a place where communities are safe, people are healthy and thriving, and everyone has the opportunity to build a secure future.

We know what it takes to create strong communities―good schools, roads, libraries, and so forth. Unfortunately, New Mexico has not been making the public investments necessary for this to happen. Instead, we’ve been following the long-discredited trickle-down policy of cutting taxes for the powerful few at the expense of the common good. Worse yet, even as these tax cuts drain the pool of money needed for public investments, some lawmakers are insisting that we need to continue down this counterproductive path.

It seems that every week there is a new story in the newspaper showing the consequences of choosing tax cuts for the powerful over public investment. One of the most egregious, which has a huge impact on public safety, is the backlog of thousands of rape kits with DNA evidence that have not been processed. Each of these kits represents a violent crime, a victim, and a perpetrator. Until we process the DNA evidence the police and district attorneys cannot find, arrest, prosecute, and convict sex offenders. This backlog undoubtedly represents hundreds—if not thousands—of sexual predators who have not only escaped justice, but who have been free to roam our neighborhoods and communities. The Legislature recently set aside some money to address part of this backlog, but lawmakers said there wasn’t enough revenue to do them all.

Another example has serious financial consequences for families trying to make ends meet. The state’s tax department has a backlog of tax refund checks that have not been sent out because the returns have been flagged for more scrutiny. But that scrutiny is slow in coming because, apparently, the department doesn’t have the staff it needs to move these rebates along.

Then there’s the backlog of applications and renewals for the ID cards that patients need in order to purchase medical marijuana. Most patients needing medical marijuana have chronic health problems such as cancer, debilitating pain, or epilepsy. Some are veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. These patients are willing to spend their own money for a medicinal product that offers them relief, but they can only do so if they have an up-to-date ID. Department of Health officials say they have doubled the number of staff who process these cards—from four workers to eight—and even brought on three temporary workers, but this is clearly not enough. They recently extended expired ID cards, but this is just a temporary fix.

The state’s Income Support Division also suffers from a staff shortage, which had made it impossible for the department to process applications for food and health care assistance in a timely manner. We’ve even recently learned that managers have been falsifying applications for emergency food assistance so the department looks like its meeting its deadline. This has delayed food assistance to some of the hungriest and neediest kids and families in New Mexico.

New Mexico communities cannot thrive if our state lacks the revenue it takes to make these investments―and others―in our well-being. The way forward is for lawmakers to repeal the tax cuts and end the practice of letting the most powerful manipulate the tax code to their benefit. It’s time to focus on what helps all New Mexicans.

James Jimenez, MPA, is executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children and has worked with state and city budgets for many years.

Originally published at NM Voices for Children

New Mexico’s Budget Crisis: “It’s No Laughing Matter” (RADIO SPOT)

With the prospect of a special session of the legislature fast approaching to address a looming budget crisis, the Center for Civic Policy is running this radio ad in selected areas of the state which offers our take on the issue and calls upon constituents to take action:

A thirty-second radio spot can hardly do justice to this fiscal train wreck. A bit of context is in order.

The State of New Mexico faces a serious budget deficit as the result of a shortfall in revenues. Revenue projections made back in January were overly optimistic, it seems. It now appears certain that Governor Martinez soon will call a special session of the legislature to fix a growing budget crisis.

The Governor’s answer is a 5 percent across the board cut in funding for state agencies. New revenues are off the table, she says.

To call this approach unwise would be an understatement. How about unconscionable.

Consider these facts about the quagmire in which New Mexico finds itself:

  • 49th in child poverty
  • K-12 funding is nearly 11% less per student than pre-2008 recession levels
  • 7,000 fewer children fewer children receive child care assistance than in 2010
  • Medicaid was already underfunded this year by $86 million, causing cuts of over $400 million in health care services when lost federal matching dollars are included.
  • Low- and middle-income New Mexicans pay twice the rate in state and local taxes as the richest 1 percent.

We could go on and on.

Low oil prices are cited as the cause of the crisis. But overlooked in the midst of all the hand-wringing, are the horribly irresponsible tax policies enacted in recent years.

The cold hard truth of the matter is this: The Governor is determined to protect her prized corporate tax giveaways by making New Mexico’s working families pay for them.

In 2013 Governor Martinez and the legislature gave huge tax cuts and tax breaks to large corporations, many of them out-of-state. These so-called “business incentives” were supposed to cause an explosion of job creation.

Well, it hasn’t worked. They just took the money and ran.

Today New Mexico has the 3rd highest jobless rate in the nation.

It stands to reason that our continuing underinvestment in education and healthcare is making New Mexico a less than desirable place for companies that are looking for a place to relocate.

A better answer is for legislators to say “no” to more cuts. It’s time to make corporations and the well-connected pay their fair share.

 

What’s really behind New Mexico’s budget woes

By Bill Jordan, senior policy adviser and government relations officer for NM Voices for Children.

Most complex systems — like airplanes, for example — have built-in redundancies. So for a catastrophic failure to occur — such as falling from the sky — there generally have to be several things going wrong. Usually all at once. The state budget is a complex system, too. Sadly, it’s plunging toward disaster. To fix it, we need to look at all the things that are going wrong.

Most news outlets and the pundits they quote have only been focusing on one problem: low oil and gas prices. If we’re going to be successful in fixing this thing before it crashes and burns, we need to look at the other failing pieces. Namely, that the state hasn’t been collecting enough money to cover all of its important expenses like education, health care and public safety.

We’ve been passing big tax cuts since 2003. Tax cuts have been thrown at profitable corporations and the people earning the most money. These tax cuts were supposed to create jobs. They didn’t. Back in 2003, before the recession, this wasn’t so much of a problem. Oil and gas prices were steady and the economy was strong. Today, however, New Mexico’s economic recovery crawls along, we’re still waiting on those promised jobs to materialize, and bargain-basement oil and gas prices don’t look like they’re going back up any time soon. It’s time to take a second look at all those tax cuts.

Let’s start with the personal income tax rate cut for those at the very top of the scale. Since 2003, the wealthiest New Mexicans have seen their income tax rate cut almost in half. These days, for all practical purposes, we have just one income tax rate, and it’s the same whether you earn $16,000 or $16 million. Then there’s the very generous deduction for capital gains income. Capital gains is the money people make on the stock market and in real estate deals. People with capital gains income get to deduct half of that income for tax purposes. When was the last time you got to subtract half of every paycheck from your income tax bill? I’ll tell you when: never.

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Primary Election Day – June 7: Don’t Forget to Vote!

Primary Election day is Tuesday, June 7. Polls open 7 am to 7 pm.

Bernalillo County Voting Convenience Centers:

Doña Ana County Voting Convenience Centers:

2016 New Mexico Landscape Survey

The Center for Civic Policy (CCP) commissioned a statewide poll in early December of 2015 for the purpose of getting a reading of public opinion regarding some key public policy issues as New Mexico prepares for another legislative session.

Here are some key takeaways:

Issues Environment

Voters were asked, “Of all the issues facing New Mexico, what is the single most important one to you that the state government in Santa Fe can do something about? And what is the next most important issue?” Voters overwhelmingly care most about two issues – schools and education (34% top two issue) and the economy and jobs (28% top two issue). Concerns about crime/drugs/DUI (12% top two issue) lag far behind.

Economic Justice

We tested two statements describing the relationship between the economic challenges facing working families and the power dynamics in New Mexico. These were adapted from the “Everyone Economics” polling conducted by Americans United for Change and other national groups. Voters were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following:

Statement #1

“In New Mexico today, too many politicians have handed power over to corporate lobbyists and changed the rules, giving out big tax breaks and favors to the wealthy and to out-of-state corporations while wages have stayed low, middle class incomes have flat-lined, jobs have disappeared and working families and small businesses struggle just to stay afloat.”

 Among active voters an overwhelming 75% agreed with this critique of New Mexico today with 16% disagreeing for a net agreement of +59%. Those who strongly agreed (59%) surpassed those who strongly disagreed (7%). There was hardly any daylight between agreement among Hispanics (76%) and Anglos (75%).

Statement #2

“The same-old trickle-down policies simply aren’t working. Out-of-state corporate CEOs and the well-connected keep getting tax breaks, while ordinary New Mexicans struggle living paycheck to paycheck. We need to reform state government so that it works for working families, not just wealthy special interests.”

Agreement with the second statement was even stronger. Among active voters, 77% agreed with 16% disagreeing for a net agreement of +65%. Those who strongly agreed (63%) surpassed those who strongly disagreed (8%). Hispanic agreement was even higher (88%) compared to Anglos (72%).

Voters in every age, education, ethnicity, income, and political and ideological group share the overall critique about the economy and government. Hispanic women are literally universal in their agreement that the economy isn’t working for average people and needs fundamental reform.

Automatic Voter Registration

A majority of voters (58%) support automatically registering voters when they turn 18 or move to New Mexico, and allowing them to remain registered when they move anywhere in the state. Just a third (35%) oppose it.

Religious Refusal Laws

A majority (51%) of voters oppose new religious refusal laws that would expand the ways in which people could be exempt from laws and regulations that conflict with their religious beliefs. Only 28% support this while a fifth (20%) cannot offer an opinion.

Planned Parenthood

Despite the efforts of anti-choice zealots to smear and destroy Planned Parenthood, those already favorable towards the organization have become more so. 45% New Mexico voters had a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood. Now, while the overall opinion has stayed the same (46%), intense favorability – those giving it a rating of ‘9’ or ‘10’ – have increased by 11 points. Those choosing lower favorable scores, between ‘6’ and ‘8’, have fallen by a similar share of 11 points. Unfavorable opinion of the group has also increased (from 30% in January to 36% in December) overall but not in intensity. Those without an opinion, either a neutral rating of ‘5’ or unawareness of the organization, fell from 25% to 19%.

While the state of New Mexico doesn’t directly provide funding to Planned Parenthood, voters oppose efforts to permanently block it. Overall, 57% oppose the state blocking funding while just around a third (35%) support it. Only 8% fail to offer an opinion. Hispanics oppose this ban at the same rate as Anglos. A significant gender gap emerges among Anglos based on education. Anglo men who didn’t graduate college split on this while non-college graduate women oppose it by almost a two-to-one margin. Among Anglos who did graduate from college, men and women oppose it similarly.

“Right to Work”

When asked to say which issues they find more important for the New Mexico government to deal with, just two people volunteer anything about passing a “right to work” law while 30% of all voters say they want the state to address the economy, jobs, and raising wages. After this open-ended question, we gave voters a choice five issue to pick as the top priority for the Governor and state legislature to address next year:

  • Growing New Mexico jobs
  • Funding for public schools
  • Public safety, crime and prison reform
  • Restoring trust to state elections, and
  • Right to work legislation

Just 5% selected “right to work.” Jobs (33%) and public schools (32%) were the overwhelming choices, followed by public safety (18%). A similar share (6%) pick restoring trust to state elections.

Food Tax

While New Mexicans are divided on many issues, they come together in opposition to imposing a sales tax on food. Four-fifths (80%) oppose it and just 15% support it. When couched as part of a broader effort to lower the sales tax on all goods, opposition stays strong (62%) while support comes in at just 29%. Voters in all income groups oppose it similarly.

Best Approach to Address Crime: Tougher Penalties vs. Treatment Programs

When it comes to reducing crime, more voters in New Mexico believe in to focusing more resources on programs like early-education, drug abuse treatment, mental health services, and family crisis intervention (49%) than mandating life sentences for anyone who commits three violent crimes (35%). Partisanship, age, and educational attainment split voters on this question. Hispanics and Anglos, men and women, prefer treatment over tougher penalties.

The 2016 Landscape Poll was conducted by Third Eye Strategies. This was a survey of 602 active voters in the state of New Mexico. Respondents were interviewed between 6:00 and 9:00 pm on December 4th through 7th, 2015. 51.5% (310) of interviews were conducted on cell phones. The data were adjusted slightly by gender, age, and ethnicity by region to best represent the distribution of active likely voters and those recently registered.

All polls are subject to errors caused by interviewing a sample of persons, rather than the entire population. In 95 cases out of 100, the responses to this survey should be within plus or minus 4.28 percentage points of those that would have been obtained from interviewing the entire population of likely voters.

 

 

 

 

Family-Friendly Businesses

The New Mexico Family-Friendly Business Award was created by the Task Force on Work Life Balance to recognize New Mexico employers and businesses that offer family-friendly employee benefits and promote increasing the number of businesses with family centered polices and work force access to them.

NMTFWLBThe board and staff of the Center for Civic Policy are proud that our organization has been recognized as one of these best practice family-friendly work places.

What are the benefits of family-friendly best practices? Here’s what the Task Force on Work Life Balance has to say:

Best practice employers foster flexibility to achieve a better balance between work and family responsibilities for all employees. From reduced absenteeism to improved productivity and job satisfaction, there are significant benefits for employees and employers in providing flexibilities for work and family balance. Work and family flexibilities ensure employers and employees balance work and family commitments by using employment arrangements that help employees manage family and lifestyle commitments while taking into account business needs. The benefits of work and family flexibilities can be achieved in all workplaces, regardless of the size of the business, by developing and implementing family-friendly workplace policies.

Our baby steps toward expanding early childhood services are not getting us far

By Bill Jordan, MA, is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children

Thousands of adorable and inquisitive youngsters are trotting off to school for the first time this month.

From all around the state these wide-eyed kiddos are beginning their school adventures. In honor of this new class, we thought we’d look back at how New Mexico prepared them for school, and look forward to how babies born this year will fare in their preschool years.

In 2010, the year this new class was born, 30,733 of New Mexico’s children were enrolled in the state’s early childhood programs that help children prepare for school: home visiting, pre-kindergarten, and child care assistance. If you think that sounds like a lot, it’s actually only about a quarter of all our preschoolers. Think that’s bad? It gets worse.

Despite all the legislative activity around early childhood services, only 28,701 children—or about 2,000 fewer—are benefiting from these same early learning programs this year. Enrollment has increased for both home visiting and pre-K—and that’s great—but nearly 8,000 children have been dropped from the child care assistance roles. That’s especially troubling because that’s the program that serves children for most of their preschool years. While home visiting focuses on the first year or two of life, and pre-K serves only four-year-olds, child care assistance serves kids throughout their preschool years.

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How Corporate Tax Loopholes Compromise Our Future

By Donald Simonson, Ph.D. 

The notion of “paying it forward” is a popular one, and while we may not think about our income taxes as a form of paying it forward, that’s exactly what we’re doing. The public works that we all depend upon today—roads and highways, schools and parks, telecommunications and electrical grids, even courts and prisons—were made possible in part by taxes paid by past generations. And the taxes we pay today won’t just go toward keeping these systems and infrastructure in good repair, they will also be needed to plan for our future and address unexpected issues and opportunities. This kind of long-term vision is the foundation upon which the United States was built.

Our public works and infrastructure don’t just improve our quality of life, they also make our modern economy possible. Savvy American corporations understand that they depend on this infrastructure and that they bear responsibility for helping to pay for it. As the new report Burning Our Bridges (Center for Effective Government) shows, much of our nation’s infrastructure needs could be covered simply by collecting income tax on the profits that several corporations have retained overseas.

Over the last several decades, U.S. corporations have been paying a much smaller share of the nation’s taxes. In the 1950s, corporate income taxes made up more than 25 percent of the tax money collected by the federal government. It has now shriveled to just over 10 percent. Here in New Mexico, corporate income tax revenue is expected to decline by 60 percent.

While their tax bills are down, corporate profits are at record highs. Tax breaks, loopholes, and creative accounting practices are at record highs, as well. The Burning Our Bridges report looks at the loophole that allows U.S. corporations to transfer their profits to other countries that have low tax rates (or no taxes at all). The report juxtaposes the rapid rise of the offshoring of American corporate profits with the plunge in federal funding for infrastructure.

Among some of the report’s disturbing findings:

  • Corporate offshoring tax abuse costs the U.S. Treasury an estimated $90 billion annually.
  • Bringing our nation’s aging infrastructure up to 21st century standards will cost $3.6 trillion over the next five years.
  • Our failure to make these investments will cost us $1.8 trillion a year in travel delays, water leaks and power outages.

Individuals and American businesses must bear the $1.8 trillion cost of inaction together if we allow our infrastructure to continue crumbling and failing. No business wants to lose money because of failing transportation or undependable power, but that is what will happen. Businesses understand it takes investment to ensure future profits and that includes investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure projects are appreciated by economists on the left as well as the right. The question remains: how do we pay for infrastructure, particularly when we’re collecting fewer dollars in income taxes?

New Mexico is facing this same conundrum. Despite the fact that New Mexico has granted hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax cuts over the last few years, special interests continue to lobby for more. In fact, in the just-concluded legislative session, a bill that would have cut business taxes passed the House, but not the Senate. The special interests want the Governor to call the Legislature back into a special session to pass those tax cuts. But that’s not all. They also want a capital outlay bill to fund public works projects passed as well.

We can’t have it both ways. If business groups want a state with reliable public works and infrastructure, they must be willing to make investments in it. We all have a duty to pay it forward for future generations. Forward thinking, profit-seeking businesses know they must pay their fair share to help keep our state’s and nation’s infrastructure sound.

Don Simonson is treasurer for the Board of Directors of New Mexico Voices for Children and an emeritus professor of finance at UNM.

This is post originally appeared at New Mexico Voices for Children

Where to vote in New Mexico

The early voting period ends on Saturday, November 1. Days and hours depending on specific counties and polling locations.

Election day is Tuesday, November 4. Polls open 7 am to 7 pm.

Bernalillo County:

Doña Ana County:

Santa Fe County:

Other New Mexico Counties