The Democratic response to the governor’s State of the State address could be summed up in two words: Not impressed.
Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, gave the response following the State of the State address and called Gov. Susana Martinez’s speech “gimmicky” and said her use of numbers “obfuscates the problems that are really there.”
He also said that Martinez needs to stop playing politics and start leading.
One thing Soules criticized was what Martinez didn’t mention such as poverty issues in the state and the lack of job growth.
“In New Mexico, 37 percent of our children live in poverty. I find that inconscionable,” Soules said.
One way to fight poverty, Soules said, is to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.
“Minimum wage puts $40 per week in extra money into the pockets of the poorest in our communities to raise their kids, so their kids don’t go to school hungry, so they have the basics of life,” Soules said.
Last year Martinez vetoed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. Because of that, Democrats are introducing a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage. The governor would not have a say in that process, if it passes both chambers it would go straight to the voters.
He said Martinez highlighted the new jobs brought into the state in the past year but didn’t mention that when coupled with job losses, that New Mexico’s job growth was flat.
“If you look at the data, New Mexico has not had real job growth where the rest of the states around us have,” Soules said.
Soules also said that Martinez omitted the problems with the Children, Youth and Families Department and the controversial behavioral health audit.
But Soules’s biggest criticisms were over Martinez on education.
“I quite frankly get a little tired of talking about how third graders who don’t read proficiently are four times not likely to graduate high school,” Soules said. He said that while it is correct that a study showed 16 percent of those who don’t read proficiently in the third grade don’t graduate on time compared to 4 percent who do read proficiently at that time, that means that 84 percent of those students do end up graduating on time.
Martinez, he said, wants to change a school funding program that he calls “the fairest system” in the nation.
“She doesn’t want to put more money into the formula to flow into all school districts,” Soules said. Instead, he said that she wants targeted funding “for a few school districts.”
He also criticized Martinez’s pay raises for teachers — he said that while it is true new teachers would get 10 percent pay raises, more experienced teachers would need to fight for a 1.5 percent pay raise through teacher evaluations.
“Merit pay does not work in a system like education where all of the teachers are dedicated to their students,” Soules said.
Soules also criticized a provision where Martinez wants 60 percent of capital outlay funding to go towards water projects approved by the governor.
“She will find much more cooperation if she included us instead of trying to work around us,” Soules said.
A number of Democratic state Senators were in attendance, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Senate Majority Whip Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque.