Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fundamental Issues Confronting New Mexico Today

Revised 2015. Prepared for discussion by Harold Morgan, syndicated columnist

In this week's newspaper column I promised to post the revised list of what I consider fundamental issues facing New Mexico. These issues provide the basis for much of what appears in the column each week. While the list is incomplete, it provides a broad framework of deep, structural matters needing attention. How to take discussion of these issues to the rest of state is the problem. I'm working on an idea, a series of conferences, which of course would cost money. If you have any thoughts on the issues list and/or on how to bring the issues to a wider audience, email to - Harold

Some major institutional issues (including the usual suspects, such as water, agriculture and energy) are listed alphabetically:
• A majority of Hispanics tracing their heritage to Mexico. Cultural differences with traditional northern Hispanics.
• A state economy crossing multiple sectors and therefore not usefully measured. Generally we do science (labs to Intel) and work deriving from the land and culture (tourism, agriculture, literature, the Museum of New Mexico). Pure national defense (Holloman, Cannon) is a separate, smaller sector.
Economic activity should be identified to include everything associated with the business. Mines and smelters should go together. Aggregating everything involved with agriculture might take the sector from two percent of the economy to nine percent.
Comprehensive arts sector study released in 2014 indicates measurement approach as does the 2015 Borderplex Strategic Plan.
• Broadband (transportation of information).
• Environmentalist politics.
• Financial institution capability and role of community banks. Dodd-Frank regulations increase costs and constrain lending, more so in smaller communities.
• “Government dependence.” “Too much,” it is always alleged. In New Mexico federal activities are appropriate—border administration, land management, Indian affairs (see Native American, below). Research, itself widely varied. Military. Culture creates process orientation.
• Labor force participation. Low for decades.
• Land use and ownership. The private sector is the biggest owner of land in the state with 44 percent. Surprise! The feds own about a third of the state—34.3 percent—with the state at 12 percent and tribes with 9.4 percent. Private land ownership ranges from 6 percent in San Juan County to 93 percent in Curry County. These are old numbers and may have changed a little.
• Native American. Tribes, comprising almost ten percent of New Mexicans, are said to consider themselves ignored, not “at the table.” The Traditional Cultural Property dispute, fundamentally about theology and bureaucracy, has a major land use component. (See PERC Reports, Summer / Fall 2012, or Custodial “trust” relationship with federal government inhibits reservation economic activity.
• New Mexico as the nation’s number two majority-minority state.
• Non-farm proprietorships (commonly without employees).
• Northern counties as “rural ghetto.”
• Population change driven by new babies. Adults provide the smaller portion of our population growth. But adults are the ones who pay taxes. Babies consume taxes. Increasing movement to other states. Population decline in 2014.
• Technology transfer: Being in the national defense business with an emphasis on nuclear limits development of an entrepreneurial culture. Some technology heads to the private sector. Los Alamos National Laboratory has recently restructured its approach. Recent awards for technologies involving contaminant removal, filtering water, open software wireless well monitoring and recycling Strontium-82 generated enthusiastic news releases and headlines.
• New Mexico’s Constitution.
• Transportation – highways, that is. Nine figure gap between desired construction and maintenance and money available.
• Underground or shadow economy. The only available estimates says 9.3% of New Mexico’s gross state product operates “off the books.” Aspects: cash only, no regular healthcare, no use of banks, inability to grow businesses. See non-farm proprietorships.
• Uneducated young people. That our kids can’t read is bad enough. History courses appear to be process. Knowing the facts—who won the particular war—is necessary before the processes. A high school catalogue calls New Mexico history a semester-long survey “with an emphasis on the 20th century to the present.” The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries don’t count much.
The economics course cites “government agencies” as the first player in the “allocation of scarce resources and the economic reasoning.” People are mentioned but not markets.
• Communication: Perhaps the biggest challenge. New Mexico is a big state with 77.9 million acres, or 121,335 square miles. Just over half of us live in the north central Rio Grande Valley from Belen to Velarde. The rest of us live everywhere else.
Events in one corner of the state fail to penetrate the other corner. The private sector might step up here.

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