Gov. Susana Martinez delivers 2015 State of the State Address. Photo by Nancy Partridge
SANTA FE — The following is the prepared text of the 2015 State of the State Address delivered by Gov. Susana Martinez today from the chamber of the New Mexico House of Representatives.
2015 State of the State Address:
Lieutenant Governor; Senate President Pro Tempore; our new House Speaker; Democratic and Republican leaders; esteemed members of the New Mexico Legislature; honorable members of the judiciary; former New Mexico governors; tribal governors; former Senator Pete Domenici; distinguished guests; the State’s first gentleman, my husband, Chuck Franco; the State’s first son, Carlo; and, my fellow New Mexicans.
It is an honor to join you for the annual State of the State Address and open this legislative session.
This session, we must lead with courage. We must commit ourselves to the task of charting a better and stronger future for our children. In everything we do this session, we must focus on how it impacts the children of New Mexico: how it improves their safety and well-being today, and how we ensure they have a future without limits, as they chase their dreams for tomorrow.
Quite simply, there is no greater calling for those of us in this Chamber.
That means continuing to improve our schools so that every child receives a quality education. It means creating a diverse economy, and new jobs, in all sorts of industries. And it means coming together to tackle the devastating impact of child abuse and neglect.
My friends, I am grateful and blessed to have been re-elected as your governor.
I am humbled by the strong support we received statewide – from Gallup to Hobbs, and Albuquerque to Las Vegas.
Yes, Republicans in particular had a strong showing on election night, with candidates who supported tax reforms and education reforms defeating incumbents who had been defenders of the status quo.
Consequently, there is a new Republican majority in the State House. Congratulations to each new member and to your leader, Speaker Don Tripp.
But as I said in my Inaugural Address, voters didn’t choose one party over another in November. I firmly believe they chose progress over politics. They chose to move forward, to keep reforming, and that’s my commitment – to work together with Republicans and Democrats to make New Mexico an even better place to live – for them, and for their children and grandchildren.
Let’s build upon the foundation we have laid over the last four years. After all, we have accomplished a great deal – together:
- Closed the largest structural budget deficit in state history, and put our finances back in order;
- Passed the most sweeping tax reform in a generation;
- Took ourselves out from under an unworkable federal education law, allowing us more local control, and we now have more and better information about how our schools are performing than ever before; and,
- Reformed Medicaid to make it more patient-centered, and expanded Medicaid, providing health coverage to 185,000 more New Mexicans.
We should be proud of these bipartisan achievements.
And as we look ahead, know this. I will not mark time. I ask that you make that same commitment.
I ask that, in every decision, we will choose courage over comfort, change over stagnation, reform over the status quo. Choose the courageous route, paved with policies that will outlast each of us and fundamentally improve New Mexico.
Our greatest challenge is making New Mexico more competitive economically, and less reliant on federal spending. It’s about charting our own course, and creating an economy as diverse as our great state so that our children and grandchildren can find good-paying jobs here in New Mexico when they finish school.
We’ve worked toward this goal, in a bipartisan way:
Cut the business tax rate by 22%;
- Stopped unfairly taxing our exporting manufacturers;
- More than tripled the size of our closing fund to attract companies;
- Invested in job training to help small businesses; and,
- Focused our tourism dollars behind smart advertising and our record-breaking “New Mexico True” campaign.
On our watch, exports to Mexico are at an all-time high; we’ve been ranked number one in the nation in export growth.
In Santa Teresa, our border port is thriving. New Mexico is poised to become a key trade route between the U.S. and Mexico, Central America, and South America.
Our tax rate on manufacturing improved from 3rd worst in the region to the best in the west.
Even more promising, over the past year, we created 14,000 jobs and our private sector grew at a rate of 2.4% – lifting us in the state-by-state rankings all the way to the 15th fastest growing private sector in the country.
And over the last year, we’ve seen New Mexico companies expand their workforce, as we also welcome new companies here from around the world.
A few of these small businesses have joined us today. Local companies like PESCO in Farmington, a family-run manufacturer that recently committed to adding 150 new employees over the next few years. Kyle Rhodes and Gini Baxter – thank you for being here.
And Vitality Works – a New Mexico company that started in 1982; they added 50 new employees this year and continue to grow and do business throughout the world. Mitch Coven and Jackie Keeper – you do great work. Thank you for being here as well.
Or DHF Technical Products, a California company that moved its headquarters to Rio Rancho last year. Just like Southwest Steel Coil and Flagship Food Group – two other California companies that are bringing jobs here.
Dan Castilleja and Larry Fell, with DHF, said publicly it was our newly competitive business environment that led them to make such a dramatic move. They also noted that they could’ve chosen to do business anywhere in the country, and they chose us.
Dan and Larry, you’ve got that right, and we thank you for moving your company to New Mexico. You will never regret it.
Whether it’s these, or the dozens of other companies that have committed to growing or relocating in New Mexico in the last year, they are proof that we can compete. We don’t have to rely on Washington to dictate our future.
But there’s obviously much more to be done, important work that begins, in earnest, this legislative session.
First, I believe small businesses drive our economy, and they need a level playing field to compete with big corporations. I come from a family of small business owners; I’ve seen it.
We should partner with these risk-takers, and provide additional funding for our successful job training program, where the state pays a portion of the salary of new employees hired in New Mexico while they’re being trained.
We should invest more in MainStreet districts – particularly in rural areas, where we have seen literally hundreds of new small businesses start or grow in the past few years.
And, I am proposing targeted tax relief for small business owners to reduce the personal income tax burden on small business owners during the early stages, while they’re hiring new employees and getting off the ground. Let’s grow our small businesses. They’re taking great risk, and they deserve our support.
But while we help small businesses thrive here in New Mexico, we must compete to bring new jobs to our state from elsewhere.
Recently, the executives of a major national company told me, “We have never even considered New Mexico when looking at places to expand, always looked right past your state. Then someone told us we wouldn’t believe what’s happening there, and that we should take a second look. So, we did, and we couldn’t believe what we found.”
My friends, the word is getting out, but there are several things we can do to turn up the volume.
That’s why I’m proposing a $50 million closing fund for economic development projects.
We should also provide specific incentives to attract companies to move their headquarters to New Mexico.
And, there are commonsense measures we can enact this year that won’t cost state government a dime, but would save New Mexicans money and make New Mexico a more attractive place to do business.
For example, I firmly believe that every person should be allowed to choose for themselves whether they want to join a union or contribute to one.
This isn’t a complicated concept, and most people agree. If a worker wants to join a union, then they will. But it is fundamentally wrong to require membership or take money from the paychecks of our workers in order to get a job. For these workers, this is gas money, rent, or a car payment.
And studies have shown that states where workers are allowed to make this choice for themselves have higher employment levels, and companies locate there more often.
It’s time we protect the paychecks of New Mexico workers. It’s commonsense, and it is long overdue.
We need to make New Mexico a high-tech jobs leader as well. After all, we have all the necessary pieces – national labs, our bases, high-tech companies, and quality universities. But the good ideas being worked on at our labs and universities right here in New Mexico need to be brought to the marketplace here as well. So our kids who dream of becoming scientists can be educated at our universities, and then take what they learn to create New Mexico jobs. We can make that happen, through the Technology Research Collaborative.
And we need stronger incentives for the creation of technology jobs, and more private investment, by Angel investors, in high-tech start-up companies all over the state.
Helping small businesses grow, attracting companies and jobs from elsewhere, and making New Mexico a high-tech jobs leader – that’s how you create a more diverse economy and a stronger private sector. Of course, we also need to build a stronger foundation for economic growth – in particular, better infrastructure and a talented workforce.
Last year, I am proud that we came together to support $89 million in new water infrastructure in New Mexico. Now, however, we must turn our attention to our aging highway infrastructure – to roads that are unsafe, failing, and impeding economic growth.
We’ve seen what happens when we work together to address major highway problems. Just a few weeks ago, we opened the interchange at Paseo del Norte and I-25 in Albuquerque. It was funded, in part, with state money, that leveraged federal and local dollars – a true partnership.
We can complete large projects, of similar magnitude, in every corner of the state. I propose that we allocate at least $180 million of infrastructure money, over the next three years, for major highway construction projects across New Mexico.
Even more critical to building a strong foundation for our economy is our workforce. Are they well educated? Can they read? Did they graduate? Are they capable of holding the jobs of tomorrow? Because if they are all these things, they are employable. There is no question they will be able to create a brighter future for themselves and their families, no question they can seize the American Dream, and no question they can fulfill the desire in each of us to see our kids have it better than we did.
I firmly believe that education is the road that will lead out of poverty for each New Mexico child, for each struggling family, and for our state as a whole.
Why do I believe that? Because education is what plants the seeds of wonder, of curiosity, of excitement in a child; points them to opportunities and goals, inspires dreams about careers, and about better days; gives them hope – that today’s circumstances do not have to be tomorrow’s circumstances.
If we agree education is that powerful – capable of lifting a child’s spirit, a family’s future, and a state’s economy – then a quality education is what we must ensure every child receives.
When we see failing schools, we must turn them around, and have the courage to intervene. Don’t take the comfortable route and simply hope the school will improve on its own someday. Take Gadsden, for example, a poor district, where English tends to be the second language, and where district leaders and teachers could have made excuses for decades of poor performance. But they didn’t. Courage is saying, “No more excuses.” Every child can learn. They took a district that had only one “A” school four years ago to five “A” schools today, and nine “D” or “F” schools back then to zero now.
Or the courage of Judith Foster, an elementary school principal in Las Cruces, to sign herself and her teachers up for our intensive school turnaround program. Her school was a “D” school. She wouldn’t settle for that, and it’s paid off. Today, Loma Heights Elementary has a “B,” with more kids on grade level in reading and math. Judith is here, alongside teachers Stephanie Cabrera and Jeremy Sanchez. Congratulations!
That is progress. And that is what it will take. School by school, we can turn education around. But to improve these schools, we must empower struggling teachers and principals. Give them proven tools and strategies.
Last year, we started the “Principals Pursuing Excellence” program. We paired principals whose students were doing well, with those whose students were struggling, and helped them engage in an active mentoring relationship.
One year later, over 50% of the participating schools increased at least one letter grade. Pojoaque’s Superintendent, Adan Delgado, says it’s making a difference in his district, and two of his principals are here to attest to that. Staci Mascarenas, from Pojoaque Valley Intermediate School, and Vera Trujillo from Pojoaque Valley Middle School, both of whom had the courage to take part, and whose schools have seen great growth in their kids, and in their school grades. Thank you for your willingness to help one another, and to help our kids!
This year, we should fund and implement a similar mentorship program for teachers. Pair exemplary teachers with struggling ones, and in doing so, we can make big gains – classroom by classroom, and school by school.
And, if education is the most powerful tool in the life of a child, we should honor and reward our best teachers and intervene quickly to help those who need it.
But, we must choose courage over comfort. The status quo is comfortable – each teacher paid the same, every evaluation identical, and the misguided belief that all teachers should be simply labeled as meeting competency.
Those are comfortable notions. But, they do not center on the one question we should be asking above all others when it comes to education: are our kids learning?
If that is the central question then there is no doubt we would embrace reform.
Yes, we are evaluating our teachers in a more meaningful way than ever before, and I understand that change can be difficult and challenging. But we continue to listen to ways in which we can improve and make the process better. I will meet anyone halfway, so long as our children learning is the only goal in front of us.
We also continue to look for ways to better support our teachers, because we know how important their work is. For example, teachers tell me two things most often – that starting teachers aren’t paid enough, and that they shouldn’t have to spend money from their own pockets on school supplies in their classrooms.
I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I’m proposing that we raise starting teacher salaries by an additional $2,000 per year, to help us recruit and retain more teachers.
And to help teachers who are having to pay for classroom materials out-of-pocket, we should provide every New Mexico teacher with a pre-loaded $100 debit card for the purchase of classroom supplies.
I also recognize how difficult it can be in a state as large and rural as ours to recruit certain types of teachers – bilingual, special ed, math and science. So, let’s offer two-year stipends to these types of teachers if they’re willing to teach in schools or districts where recruitment or retention has been a challenge.
And I firmly believe that we should allow adjunct teachers into our high schools to teach certain difficult subjects, such as scientists from Los Alamos or Sandia teaching one or two chemistry classes, or well-trained researchers teaching geometry or calculus. Again, if our goal is to provide our kids with the best instruction possible, these are opportunities we cannot pass up.
Let me say this, however. If education is the key to a brighter future for our children, then we must have the courage to demand that our kids are in their seats and learning. Truancy is a cancer in our schools. Today’s habitually truant kids are indeed tomorrow’s dropouts. It is our collective problem. And we know who the at-risk kids are; teachers say they can spot them a mile away – detached, behavior issues, lack of interest in school and their peers.
So I propose that districts with high truancy problems come to the state with local plans to stop it. Which middle schools could really benefit from having social workers on campus, to interact with at-risk kids? And in the high schools that are fed by these middle schools, let’s hire dropout prevention coaches whose sole purpose is to see these kids receive a diploma.
Of course, despite our best efforts, some young people will not get the message until we have the courage to be tougher. To that end, we should pass legislation that would not allow habitually truant students to obtain or keep their driver’s license.
But ask yourself this: how did many troubled students end up that way – uninterested in school, dropping out, perhaps engaging in criminal activity, achieving far lower than their potential? As a prosecutor for 25 years, as someone who has listened to the stories of teachers who try to reach these kids, chances are, it’s because they can’t read very well.
They fell behind early, couldn’t read a children’s book…passed along.
Words got bigger, chapters got longer, and subjects got harder…passed along.
Asked to read out loud in class? No way. Too embarrassed.
Homework? Can’t read it and stopped trying, tired of failing.
“I’m struggling” becomes “I’ll never understand this,” which becomes “I’m not smart, so I’m done trying.”
When children cannot read, and yet they are passed along anyway, we do them no favors. We discourage them. We frustrate them. We hurt their chances for success in life. We hamper their ability to get a good job. My friends, that does not build self-esteem in a child!
We have condoned this for far too long, taken the easy way out, and made the comfortable decision.
It takes courage to do the right thing. Now is the time, this is the moment, when we stop being complicit in this practice. We must stop passing our children from one grade to the next when they cannot read.
On my watch, we’ve more than doubled pre-K funding, and I’m proposing more this year. We’ve made K-3 Plus permanent, allowing 18,000 struggling readers to take advantage of summer tutoring. I know it starts early, and our efforts to stop social promotion are jam-packed with interventions, starting at kindergarten, to get children help so that retaining them is not necessary. But let’s acknowledge the devastating negative ripple effects of socially promoting our youngest children. It impacts their ability to learn and succeed, it makes it harder for teachers in later grades to bring them up to speed, and it makes it harder for businesses to find the qualified workforce they need.
Let’s choose progress, not politics, on this issue.
It’s true, we’re making gains. Our Hispanic and low-income students are among the leaders in the nation when it comes to advanced placement success, and our lowest-performing students are making progress we haven’t seen before. We are seeing glimpses of what happens when we choose reform, but we have a lot of work left to do. Let’s put our students first, and ultimately, we can create thriving families and a stronger New Mexico workforce.
There are other questions that businesses ask when deciding where to locate and whether to expand – questions beyond whether the state’s finances are in order, whether the state’s tax policies are fair, and whether our education system is preparing an adequate workforce.
Things like: will we get a fair shake? Is the playing field level?
I’m proud of what we have done to increase confidence in state government; after all, four years ago, that confidence was shaken to its core. Corrupt contractors aren’t allowed to do business with the state any longer, judges can now take away the pensions of corrupt officials, and we have recovered over $29 million in taxpayer money that was squandered in the Richardson-era pay-to-play scandals. But there’s more to do.
For example, those convicted of public corruption should be immediately removed from office, not be allowed to stay on the job and collect a paycheck. And, as we have done with appointees in my administration, legislators should not be able to serve in government one day, then lobby that same government the next.
And while we are at it, let’s adopt a few other commonsense reforms.
If a worker gets injured on the job while drunk or high, he or she should not be allowed to receive workers compensation benefits.
And partisan elections should have no place in the selection of our judges.
These are basic reforms, and by enacting them, we can show the outside world that government in New Mexico just makes sense.
Of course, it is also critical that our communities are safe. For our kids to have a bright future, they must be safe and secure. In past years, we’ve strengthened sex offender registration, and closed the loophole allowing out-of-state sex offenders to come here undetected.
The expansion of Katie’s Law has led to an incredible 88% increase in DNA matches, connecting people who are committing a broader range of felonies to previously unsolved crimes. 135 burglaries, 21 sex crimes, 10 homicides…those are lives being saved, and more justice for victims.
In addition, alcohol-related fatalities on our roadways in 2013 were at an all-time low, and that’s encouraging. After all, as our ENDWI campaign emphasizes, it is the responsibility of each of us, in our own way, in a variety of ways, to stop drunk driving in our state. But still, we see too many tragedies, too many lives lost at the hands of drunk drivers. This session, we need to crack down on repeat offenders – the ones who truly don’t get it.
And we need to increase penalties for those who recklessly toss the keys to someone whose license has been suspended due to a DWI conviction.
There are other measures we can adopt to keep New Mexicans safe.
Certain child abuse offenders and those who kill under the influence of alcohol should be required to serve 85 percent of their prison sentence – no matter what.
And, let’s do what the people we represent have demanded. It is time to repeal the dangerous law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants who come here from around the world.
I’ve dedicated my life to fighting for kids, and fighting to hold those who hurt them accountable. I’ve seen the devastating effects of child abuse first-hand. And, over the next four years, we must redouble our efforts to stop child abuse in New Mexico.
We can start with commonsense initiatives. Create seven new child advocacy centers, where the police officers and CYFD caseworkers who investigate the same abuse incidents work in the same building, alongside safe house interviewers, and other social service groups. Preventing child abuse is a team effort, as is investigating it.
We should also hire more family support workers, who focus specifically on helping those families who have had several referrals to CYFD for abuse or neglect issues – routine checks on the family, and regular guidance and counseling.
We will also have the technology in place to finally allow police officers access to the CYFD history of a family when they are dispatched to a child abuse incident.
And to better recruit and retain caseworkers in state government, I propose establishing a new loan repayment program, where the state pays a portion of our caseworkers’ student loans in exchange for their service. The job of a caseworker is incredibly difficult. It’s why we have such high turnover. We have already raised the average caseworker’s pay at CYFD by 10%, and this initiative is the next step.
We should also close the many loopholes and correct the deficiencies in our current child abuse laws.
For example, when CYFD caseworkers are called to a home, they should be able to prescribe counseling or therapy services and mandate that the parents or other caregivers take part.
Additionally, every single person in our state should be required to protect our children and report child abuse if they know or suspect it to be occurring. That’s always been the law of the land, but sadly, a recent Court of Appeals decision ignored decades of precedent. Let’s set the matter straight.
In addition to making sure children are safe, we must ensure they are well cared for, and provide a safety net if a child isn’t getting the basics, like a good breakfast every morning. That’s why I support expanding the “Breakfast After the Bell” program beyond just elementary school – to middle and high school students as well.
We will also continue to expand the Summer Food program, because our little ones deserve to look forward to their summer break, not dread it out of fear that they’ll be hungry.
Our greatest calling is to improve life for our children. Because they will take our place one day. And I want them to be better than we were: better educated, better jobs, safer homes, and stronger communities.
The spirit of a child is an amazing thing. Sadly, I interacted with children under the worst of circumstances throughout my career as a prosecutor. It was hard. My goal was to get justice for them, and then ask God to give them resilience and the ability to overcome the scars, the pain, and the hurt. Looking back over a lifetime of service, many of them did just that. Those kids would tell me later, “I was determined not to let the adversity of my youth stand in the way of being the person I know I was created to be.”
That’s why it is so important to me that, as leaders, we never make decisions that stifle a child’s hope, dampen a child’s spirt, or put a ceiling on their potential.
We grow our economy to empower them, so that when we tell them they can grow up to be anything they want, they can be confident in that promise. We turn around struggling schools to empower them. We evaluate and help our teachers to empower them. We ensure they can read to empower them.
Allow me to introduce two young people, from Roswell, who are overcoming their own adversity. I’ve gotten to know them well over the past year, ever since they became the victims of a horrible act of gun violence at their middle school.
The last time we were gathered in this chamber together, in fact, they were both in the hospital receiving treatment for their injuries. You’ve thankfully seen their beautiful smiles on the news a few times since.
This is Kendal Sanders and Nathaniel Tavarez. We are so grateful to have them here. Let’s welcome them.
Kendal needed two surgeries, including one to replace a punctured artery.
Nathaniel is blind in his left eye.
Both still have lead pellets in their bodies.
Theirs was an unthinkable experience, and the road to recovery will be long.
Kendal has said she wonders if she will ever be loved because of the scars she has.
Kendal, yes, you are and will be loved. But it goes beyond that. You will be successful. Nathaniel, you too.
We are pulling for both of you, and it is my hope that our actions in this legislative session will say firmly that we are pulling for every New Mexico child to be as successful as their hearts desire, to go as far as they want to go, to be whomever in life they want to be – no matter how they grow up, no matter their background, and no matter the adversity they face. And to do good, and to be better, than we were.
Ladies and gentlemen, now is the time to choose progress over politics. Now is the time to be courageous and bold, not comfortable and apathetic. Now is the time to commit to change, and to reform that will better the lives of our children…because they deserve our very best, and we should resolve to give it to them. Our best days are ahead of us, New Mexico!
God bless you all, and God bless our great state!