Senate Democrats Criticize Governor’s Failed Education Policies After New Report Shows New Mexico Schools to Be Second-Worst in Nation

Contact: Isaac Padilla
Office: 505/986.4819
Isaac.Padilla@nmlegis.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Senate Democrats Criticize Governor’s Failed Education Policies After New Report Shows New Mexico Schools to Be Second-Worst in Nation

(Santa Fe, NM) – Responding to a new national report showing that New Mexico’s education system ranks as the 50th worst out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, Senate Democrats today sharply criticized Governor Susana Martinez and Public Education Department (PED) Secretary Hanna Skandera for failing to invest in proven successful strategies to improve learning.  According to the WalletHub 2016 analysis of ‘States with the Best and Worst School Systems’, New Mexico came in only slightly better than Louisiana, which came in dead last.  PED responded to the findings by saying that the state’s poor performance was due to not holding back some 3rd graders, which also drew the ire of Senate Democrats.

“This Governor and her Education Secretary are in denial when it comes to the shape our public school classrooms are in.  While other states move away from failed policies like overusing standardized tests, flunking third graders who do not pass a particular reading test, and A to F grading systems in which the data is all wrong, Martinez and Skandera doggedly continue them.  All we have seen is negative and punitive approaches from the administration, never proactive policies to invest in our children and our future,” said Senator Mimi Stewart (D-Bernalillo), a former public school teacher.

The survey looked at several results to arrive at their rankings, including student math and reading scores, average ACT and SAT test scores, student-to-teacher ratios, dropout rates and other indicators.  WalletHub is a personal finance website.  The full report can be viewed at: https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-best-schools/5335/

“What New Mexico schools need is simple: smaller classes, more time on learning and less on state-mandated standardized testing, and working with rather than demonizing educational professionals.  These are the policies Senate Democrats have pushed for.  But the Governor is not listening. And this week, the results of that approach are in,” added Sen. Stewart.

PED’s spokesman Robert McEntyre said of the report, “the bottom-line: We have to end the failed practice social promotion, which allows our children to go onto the next grade even when they cannot read.”

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Letter to the Editor by Senator Soules: It’s Time to Call Back the Legislature to Fix the Budget Responsibly

Letter to the Editor: It’s Time to Call Back the Legislature to Fix the Budget Responsibly

August 3, 2016

Letter Submitted by Senator Bill Soules (D-37- Doña Ana)

In January, I voted for a state budget totaling $6.2 billion for the fiscal year of 2017.   When I explained my vote on the Senate floor, I predicted that volatile oil and gas prices, as well as unrealistic revenue forecasts by the Governor and Republican budget drafters, would force the Legislature to come back in a special session to fix an unsustainable budget.

Last week a new report on our fiscal outlook revealed that New Mexico had a $150 million funding shortfall for the fiscal year that just ended on June 30th.  That means the State spent money that it did not actually have.  And the outlook for FY 2017, which began on July 1st, appears to be even worse with an expected shortfall of between $300 and $500 million.  The New Mexico Constitution does not allow for a budget to be unbalanced.  We cannot spend money we do not have.

The trouble began when the House of Representatives Republican majority passed a budget that was not balanced.  More money was allocated to state expenses than projected revenue would support.  Senate Democrats afterwards were tasked with trimming costs in areas the House refused to address.  Democrats worked successfully to make sure that the budget protected our priorities of education and health care, law enforcement and corrections. The Governor’s budget experts assured us that there would be $200 million more available than in the prior year, and that the budget would be balanced.   These were the circumstances under which the current State spending plan for fiscal year 2017 was agreed to.

Only the Governor has the power to call the legislature back into a special session to address the budget problem. Along with many legislators of both parties, and citizens from every part of our state, I say she must do it now and without delay.  To put off our problems until the January legislative session is a disservice to the people of New Mexico who elected us, and who expect us to be responsible.

As a Democrat representing Senate District 37, I will work to ensure that the budget is not balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable families and children.  I, along with my Senate Democratic colleagues, will protect public schools and higher education from any further cuts.  We understand that our children must get a high quality education to have the opportunity to compete for the jobs of tomorrow. Innovative companies that offer attractive jobs require an excellent public education system in order to thrive.  It is essential that we deliver. We must also protect health care, mental health services, and childcare.  If we are truly committed to lifting New Mexico from the bottom of most lists relating to poverty, education and child well-being, then we must protect the essential programs that address these issues.

The Governor and the House of Representatives must come to understand that we cannot tax-cut our way to prosperity.  New Mexico is experiencing a budget crisis that rivals the crisis we experienced during the Great Recession. We can find solutions if the Senate, the House and the administration work together to find common ground. The Senate is ready to act.

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SSOULWeb

 

Sen. Lopez: Gov. Martinez’s Different World

Gov. Martinez’s Different World

July 30, 2016   Published in the FARMINGTON DAILY TIMES

By New Mexico State Senator M. Linda Lopez (D-11-Bernalillo)

A recent opinion piece penned by Governor Susana Martinez for the financial news network CNBC demonstrated how extremely out of touch some elected leaders can be. In fact, Martinez showed that she is living in another world. Link: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/07/12/new-mexicos-mission-get-out-from-under-the-dysfunction-in-washington-dc.html
The Governor’s column boasts that under her economic leadership, New Mexico has become a version of heaven on earth for business and jobs. Among other claims that do not hold up, she takes credit for diversifying the state’s economy, cutting taxes, and boosting exports. “We’ve made a lot of progress – no doubt about it,” she wrote.
‘If there are any slight problems with New Mexico’s soaring economy, they are the result of the federal government in Washington meddling in our affairs,’ she seems to say.
If only it were true. The real facts of our state’s economy unfortunately are quite grim, and no attempts to whitewash them can alter it.
During the last legislative session in February, Senate Democrats warned that the state’s budget problems were far worse than was being revealed. Some of us pointed out that there is not enough money in this year’s budget to pay the state’s bills, and that reserves will be fully depleted at the rate we are going. It now appears that New Mexico may be short between $300 million to $500 million next year.
The Governor sought to divert attention away from her failed economic policies by emphasizing crime issues exclusively. But crime is not our biggest challenge. It is the need for more jobs.
Look at our population problem, for example. New Mexico’s population is actually decreasing for the first time since the 1960s. For the past two years, we have experienced net out-migration of people. What state loses population?
There is a simple reason for people leaving: the New Mexico economy has not yet recovered from the Great Recession. There are 18,000 fewer jobs today than just before the recession of 2008 struck. A decade without any net job creation. So people – especially young people – are forced to leave to find jobs elsewhere in surrounding states. At least part of that – a substantial part – is the legacy of the last six years of Gov. Martinez’s “leadership” on the economy.
What job increases there are, as in the health care sector, are due mainly to the fact that more and more residents here are becoming eligible for Medicaid because of their impoverishment. On top of that, New Mexico’s population is aging rapidly, bringing additional health care costs. Leisure and hospitality have seen an uptick because of historic low gasoline prices, so more people are driving here to see the beauty of our state.
As further demonstration of her effective leadership, Gov. Martinez states as proof that “we’ve quadrupled exports to Mexico”. But New Mexico’s role was merely as a conduit for the exports from the transfer point of Santa Theresa. The goods themselves were produced in other states, where real manufacturing locations exist. If even a portion of the goods shipped to Mexico had been produced here, the employment data, and the reality for New Mexico would far better than it is.
By every measure, New Mexico is performing poorly in terms of jobs and economic growth. All around us, however, surrounding states are showing better gains in jobs, business activity, and gross domestic product. New Mexico’s unemployment is worse than the national rate, too.
The budget crisis that now grips our state also is a symptom of the lack of growth and economic activity under the current policies. The headlines detailing it are unavoidable. New Mexico State University recently announced a $12 million deficit next year forcing it to cut budgets, staff, benefits and at least one academic program as a result. This is what happens when a state’s economy is in a downward spiral.
It is hard to find the silver lining in all this bad economic news.
The Legislature will no doubt need to convene in a special session soon to trim the FY17 budget because of falling revenues. In January when it meets, the deeper structural problems must finally be addressed.
Far from pretending that New Mexico’s economy is sailing along wonderfully, Gov. Martinez needs to shed the rose-colored glasses she is wearing, stop pretending that ‘Washington dysfunction’ is the cause of our woes, and finally get to work with legislators to implement policies to put our state back to work.

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http://www.daily-times.com/story/opinion/columnists/2016/07/30/lopez-gov-martinezs-different-world/87672532/

 

Senator Ortiz y Pino Questions the Department of Health’s Plan to Shift Resources Away from Adolescent Detoxification Program

Contact: Isaac Padilla
Office: 505/986.4819
Isaac.Padilla@nmlegis.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Senator Ortiz y Pino Questions the Department of Health’s Plan to Shift Resources Away from Adolescent Detoxification Program

(Santa Fe, NM) – Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-12-Bernalillo), chair of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, announced that public comments about the closing of Turquoise Lodge Hospital’s adolescent detoxification facility will be heard tomorrow, Friday, July 29th at 11:30 a.m. during the committee’s meeting. People interested are encouraged to attend the meeting located at The Rotunda, University of New Mexico Science and Technology Park, 801 University Blvd. SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106.

In the midst of an addiction crisis in New Mexico, the Department of Health (DOH) plans to close the state’s only detoxification facility for children 14 to 18 years of age. DOH claims it is closing the adolescent facility due to underutilization and will free space for additional adult patients. “We may need adult treatment expansion, but our children also need services. Many of our children have become addicted to opioids and heroin after being prescribed pain medication, and we have a chance to save their lives if we provide them the care they need,” said Senator Ortiz y Pino.

In announcing the closure, DOH identified other facilities that will “address the adolescent substance abuse problem” but none of those facilities offers detoxification for adolescents. “Closing the only detoxification facility for adolescents in New Mexico is irresponsible when it is desperately needed by children suffering from addiction,” added Sen. Ortiz y Pino.

The adolescent program was funded through an appropriation from the general fund approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2013. “The specific appropriation was for adolescent treatment, and I don’t think the administration has freedom to shift it to another type of service,” said Sen. Ortiz y Pino.

The Turquoise Lodge program was designed to provide adolescents with detoxification and 30 days of inpatient treatment to prepare them for long term treatment at other facilities. Addiction professionals recommend that adolescents suffering from addiction participate in a detoxification program before starting other types of care to increase the probability of success for intensive outpatient treatment.

Trust for America’s Health reported that, from 2011-2013, New Mexico’s drug overdose death rate ranked second in the nation for individuals  between the ages of 12 to 24 and death rates have doubled between years of 1999-2001 and 2011-2013 for the same age range.

Links to the 2013 press release from Governor Martinez’s announcing the start of adolescent detoxification at Turquoise Lodge and the DOH’s letter to stakeholders informing them that the program will end are included below.

Martinez Turquoise Press Release

DOH Turquoise Stakeholder Letter

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Senate Democrats Push Governor to Convene Emergency Special Session of Legislature to Fix State Budget; Caucus Rules Out Any Cuts to K-12 Public Education or Higher Ed

Contact: Isaac Padilla
Office: 505/986.4819
Isaac.Padilla@nmlegis.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Senate Democrats Push Governor to Convene Emergency Special Session of Legislature to Fix State Budget; Caucus Rules Out Any Cuts to K-12 Public Education or Higher Ed

(Santa Fe, NM) – Senate Democrats today called on Governor Susana Martinez to convene the New Mexico Legislature in an emergency special session to fix the quickly expanding budget deficit that has resulted from plummeting state revenues. A new report last week revealed that the State spent between $150 – $200 million more than it had budgeted in the fiscal year that just ended, and the year ahead looks even worse. Senate Democrats also vowed to oppose any proposal to cut public school classroom funds or higher education for universities or colleges in the course of addressing the budget crisis.

“The longer the Governor delays in calling back the Legislature to deal with this pressing crisis, the worse it is going to be for children, families and communities across New Mexico.  It is irresponsible to think that we can continue to kick the can down the road.  We are already spending money we do not have,” said Democratic Senate Majority Floor Leader, Senator Michael S. Sanchez (D-29-Bernalillo and Valencia).

In response to Senate Democrats’ call last week for convening a special session of the State Legislature, House Republicans denied that the state is slipping into financial crisis, and rejected urgent action.  According to a recent article, Republican legislative leaders and the administration have advised taking a deep breath:

‘“We need to be looking at it,” but once final numbers are in for the year just ended,’ likely at the end of August or early September. – Rep. Larry Larrañaga (R-Albuquerque), House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairman [Albuquerque Journal, July 21st, 2016]

“The longer we wait, the bigger the hole we will have to fill.  It appears the Administration and House Republicans are encouraging delay in dealing with the situation. Waiting until August or September will not change the fact that revenue has continued to decline. There isn’t any evidence to suggest that trend suddenly changed in June,” said Democratic Senate Whip, Michael Padilla (D-Bernalillo-14).

In recent days, however, diverse support for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the budget crisis has grown.  New Mexico’s Republican State Land Commissioner, Aubrey Dunn; State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg; Republican State Senator, Steve Neville, and the Albuquerque Journal editorial pages have all indicated that a meeting of the Legislature must occur sooner rather than later. 

The state Constitution prohibits deficit spending and many believe both cuts and an increase in revenue will be required to resolve the current financial crisis.  Senate Democrats remain committed to taking the necessary steps to balancing the budget but oppose any cuts to education.

“We will not support any cuts to K-12 or higher education,” Sen. Sanchez said.  “We refuse to balance the budget on the backs of children and families who want their kids to be educated through high school and college.  We ask House Republicans and the Governor to join us in that commitment.”

Falling tax revenues have put the State budget in crisis.  Swift action by both the Executive and the Legislature is needed to avoid deficit spending for the continued operation of schools, prisons, public health care, public safety and other essential State services in the current 2017 Fiscal Year, which could see a shortfall of between $300 – $500 million.

 

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State Revenues Plummet, Special Session of Legislature Needed to Fix State Budget

Contact: Isaac Padilla
Office: 505/986.4819
Isaac.Padilla@nmlegis.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

State Revenues Plummet, Special Session of Legislature Needed to Fix State Budget

(Santa Fe, NM) – State Senator John Arthur Smith, Chairman of the New Mexico Senate Finance Committee, today urged Governor Susana Martinez to convene the Legislature in a special session quickly to address a severe budget crisis.  At a news conference in the Roundhouse in Santa Fe to discuss the State’s revenue outlook, Smith said that new reports show falling tax revenues have put the State government’s budget in crisis.  Swift and cooperative action by both the Executive and the Legislature is needed to avoid deficit spending for the continued operation of New Mexico schools, prisons, public health care, public safety and other essential State services.

“We are in a very serious budget situation today because of falling tax receipts, caused by tepid oil and gas revenues and anemic economic activity,” said Sen. Smith.  “State government is spending more money than it is taking in, and by law, we cannot do that. I encourage the Governor to work with legislative leaders to address this reality and identify both short and long term solutions.”

In the fiscal year that ended on June 30th, New Mexico has a $150 million funding shortfall, according to new figures released this week.  Smith said he believes that a State fund containing up to $230 million from a settlement with tobacco companies could be used to cover the $150 million shortfall from Fiscal Year ’16.  All other State reserve funds were essentially exhausted earlier this year.

The outlook for Fiscal Year ’17, which began on July 1st, appears to be even worse, and could see a shortfall of between $300 – $500 million.  Smith indicated that program cuts and new revenue sources would be needed to address it.  “Unless June’s revenues show a marked increase, a special session seems unavoidable.  We must face this problem head on and keep all options on the table,” he added.

Video of a press conference held today at 11:00 AM that addressed the state budget can be viewed at the following link until 11 AM on July 22, 2016.  https://www.periscope.tv/NMSenateDems/1yoKMlOndMzxQ

Supporting Document:

General Fund Fiscal Outlook PDF

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State Senator Ortiz y Pino Calls for HSD Secretary’s Resignation

Contact: Isaac Padilla
505/986.4819
Isaac.Padilla@nmlegis.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

State Senator Ortiz y Pino Calls for HSD Secretary’s Resignation

(Albuquerque, New Mexico) – The chair of the legislative interim Health and Human Services Committee (LHHSC), New Mexico State Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-12th – Bernalillo) today called on Secretary of Human Services Department (HSD) Brent Earnest to resign from his appointed position.  This is in response to his agency’s failure to come clean on the scandal in which Martinez administration officials refused to answer questions under oath in federal court about whether they were directed to falsify food stamp applications in order to deny help to children, families and seniors.

At a federal court hearing on Friday, state agency managers who oversee the distribution of food assistance to the needy under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) invoked their 5th amendment rights 97 times to avoid answering basic questions about what  occurred.  The LHHSC is charged with studying programs and services available and needed for children and families.

“It is completely unacceptable that needy New Mexicans, who were eligible for federal food stamps, have been illegally and willfully denied that help for years by the state HSD.  If Secretary Earnest did not know this was happening, he failed to lead the agency.  If he did know, but did nothing, then this is may be a very serious legal matter.  We have the highest rate of children living in poverty in the nation.  Thousands of them may have been harmed.  Secretary Earnest should resign immediately, or step aside and allow the federal court to point a monitor to oversee HSD’s food stamp operations,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino.

For the second time in federal court hearings in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, a growing number of Human Services Department employees alleged that managers instructed them to falsify numbers on federal food stamp applications submitted by eligible individuals in need, in order to deny them assistance.

On Friday in Las Cruces, New Mexico, HSD managers including the Deputy Secretary of Child Support, the HSD Division Director of Income Support, and the HSD County Director of Income Support all invoked the 5th amendment 97 times to avoid self-incrimination when asked questions regarding alleged violations of federal law around the failure to deliver food assistance.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is asking the federal court to appoint an independent monitor to oversee some HSD functions, including providing food stamps.

“Needy families in New Mexico have suffered because of Secretary Earnest’s conduct as the head of HSD.  There has been no willingness to take responsibility, and no accountability from this administration over the scandal.  New Mexicans deserve much better,” Ortiz y Pino said.

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New Mexico Leaders Call for Federal Review of Behavioral Healthcare Disaster

Contact: Isaac Padilla
505/986.4819
Isaac.Padilla@nmlegis.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Mexico Leaders Call for Federal Review of Behavioral Healthcare Disaster

Congressional Delegation Urged to Contact DOJ

SANTA FE- Leadership from both the New Mexico House of Representatives and Senate delivered a letter (attached) requesting that the Federal Congressional Delegation contact the Department of Justice and other relevant federal agencies regarding the behavioral healthcare crisis in New Mexico.

The request came at the urging of constituents and of three of the behavioral healthcare providers that were shut down or left hamstrung as a result of allegations of fraud.  The allegations were later found to be unfounded by the New Mexico Attorney General, and all 15 providers were cleared of any fraudulent activity.

The letters from the healthcare providers (attached) give an outline of the series of events, beginning in 2013 when the Martinez administration took its first actions.  The letters contain some very troubling allegations, ranging from client privacy violations and withholding of payments to intimidation and lack of due process.

House and Senate Leadership have forwarded the providers’ comments to U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Steve Pearce, with the request that they forward the letters to the appropriate federal agencies.

“These accounts, written by longtime, local behavioral healthcare providers are disturbing,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.  “New Mexicans – both the clients whose care have been jeopardized and the hundreds of professionals who lost their jobs– were harmed by the incidents outlined in these letters.”

“The Martinez Administration’s actions to shut down behavioral healthcare providers have had a negative impact on our economy, our safety, and our families,” said House Democratic Leader Brian Egolf.  “It is clear that the Human Services Department and the Governor’s cronies have stacked the decks against hard-working New Mexicans by courting out-of-state providers, all the while wasting $28.8 million in taxpayer money.   These actions did nothing but harm the local providers and the New Mexican families who need help.”

“Yesterday the Attorney General informed the Legislative Finance Committee that he has completed his examination and turned over his findings to the New Mexico Department of Human Services,” said Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen. “Today we are requesting that our federal delegation reach out to the Department of Justice to determine if it would be appropriate for federal agencies to investigate. It’s been three years since the payments were withheld from 15 behavioral healthcare providers in New Mexico.”

Since the Martinez Administration’s dismantling of New Mexico’s behavioral healthcare system, New Mexican families and businesses have continued to struggle. House and Senate Leadership will be working with New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation to ensure that these types of needless actions do not continue to occur.

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Behavioral Health Delegation Letter Release Easter Seals Letter to Legislators NM Legislators Letter to Fed Delegation  TeamBuilders Letter to Legislators Southwest Counseling Center Letter to Legislators

Sen. Candelaria Joins Congresswoman Lujan Grisham in Request to Right an Injustice Imposed on Same-Sex Couples

Contact: Isaac Padilla
505/986.4819
Isaac.Padilla@nmlegis.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sen. Candelaria Joins Congresswoman Lujan Grisham in Request to Right an Injustice Imposed on Same-Sex Couples   

Santa Fe, NM – Senator Jacob Candelaria (D-26-Bernalillo) and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-CD1) are requesting the Social Security Commissioner to correct the decision to deny same-sex widows and widowers survivor benefits. Same-sex couples who were in long-term relationships and shared financial resources, but were unable to legally marry, are being denied survivor benefits.

“As the first openly gay man elected man in New Mexico, I understand the pain same-sex couples experience when the state denies fundamental rights that the Constitution extends to all Americans,” said Senator Candelaria. “The federal government has made strides to correct discrimination against same-sex couples, but there is more that must be done.”

Anthony Gonzales was with his husband, Mark Johnson, for 16 years before the state recognized his right to marry. Only six months after they married, Mark Johnson passed away from cancer.

“The state forced Anthony Gonzales and Mark Johnson to wait 16 long years before they were allowed to legally marry and receive the protections granted to married couples,” said Senator Candelaria. “We cannot and should not allow them to be victimized a second time.”

Under current rules, widow and widowers who were not married nine months before their spouse died are denied survivor benefits. Same-sex marriage has been legal in New Mexico since 2013; therefore making an exception to the prohibition will apply to very few New Mexicans.

Letters sent by Congresswoman Lujan Grisham and Senator Candelaria to the Social Security Commissioner are included.

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Senator Candelaria's Survivor's Benefits Letter Congresswoman Lujan Grisham's Survivor's Benifits Letter