The State of the State, But Make it Virtual
Originally published by The Paper on January 26th, 2021.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham delivered the State of the State address on Tuesday from the state capitol. The speech came amid tightened security at the Roundhouse and COVID-19 precautions for 60-day legislative session, which caused a delay from the usual opening day speech.
A Somber Reflection
The governor set the tone for her speech by acknowledging the enormity of what New Mexicans have lost during the pandemic. “As a state and as a country, we have felt more than our fair share of grief this past year,” Lujan Grisham said. “The lives lost; the families and livelihoods and careers upended; the illnesses, the goodbyes we never got to give; the exhaustion, the fear and apprehension … and here we are, still standing, wondering: How will we heal? Where do we go from here? How will we go on?”
She went on to speak of resilience and determination and of the progressive nature the of the state and national elections. “New Mexicans are many things–angry at the injustice of the pandemic, worn-down but resolute after a year of full-time working and parenting, fed up with systematic inequality, ready to build something better and new after this year of upheaval and sorrow. But more than anything, New Mexicans are strong,” she added.
As expected the governor addressed the ongoing pandemic and thanked all of the first responders who continue to labor through it on the front lines. She touted the state’s response to COVID-19 and referenced New Mexico as being in the top 10 testing sites nationally per capita. “We told the truth about the pandemic, even when it wasn’t what some of us wanted to hear,” she said. Lujan Grisham also said the state will continue to deliver vaccines to every part of New Mexico as quickly as possible. The governor did not mention when she believed the state’s red to green system may be lifted.
When addressing the state’s struggling pandemic economy, the governor said the state had already delivered “hundreds of millions in emergency resources to thousands of small businesses, those out-of-work and disadvantaged New Mexicans.” She says the state was able to maintain financial footing despite the pandemic drain because of investment in financial reserves and planning ahead. She also added one last jab toward the previous administration by adding, “New Mexico’s economic recovery will not lag behind the nation’s, as it did under the previous Republican administration.” With a final jab at the outgoing Trump administration, she said, “We didn’t wait for the federal government to get its act together–we got grants and stimulus checks out the door. We will always take care of our own.”
She says the state plans to be aggressive in recruiting new workers in the tourism and hospitality sectors as well as construction, agriculture, energy, aerospace and outdoor recreation. Small businesses across the state were hit the worst during the pandemic, and the governor had this to say, “We will fix and improve on the Small Business Recovery Act created by the Legislature in the special session last summer, unlocking more than 200 million dollars in direct relief for New Mexico small businesses, and 200 million more specifically for business rent relief.” She said the state plans to remake the state procurement code to boost minority- and Native-owned businesses.
Read more: New Mexico CARES About Small Businesses
When addressing her budget proposal to the Legislature, she said the ball is in their court now. Lujan Grisham challenged legislators to give at least half of their individual capital outlay budgets for statewide broadband access, to the tune of $200 million. She called for an 800 percent increase in behavioral health measures, including funding for suicide prevention services and programs. The governor said her goal was to expand health coverage to 23,000 uninsured New Mexicans in the next year by creating the Health Care Affordability Fund.
With regard to funding for higher education, she asked the Legislature to commit “seed money” to the tune of $22 million to the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which would help provide free higher education to students who are economically disadvantaged. The governor said that money would essentially help 30,000 students receive a two-year higher education.
The hot ticket item in this year’s Legislature is recreational cannabis—although when isn’t it? It was clear that the governor felt this was a cornerstone to the state’s economic recovery. She invited the Legislature and voters to “rethink the status quo” by investing in the economic future of recreational cannabis. She urged the Legislature to realize the “tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in new revenue” legalization could bring to the state. “I have no interest in another year of thousands of New Mexicans eager to get to work and make their future in this industry being told ‘no,’ just because it’s easier than doing the hard work to get to ‘yes,’ ” she said.
- Read More: Big Money From Cannabis
Back to School
It’s been such a tough year for anyone having to interact with our education system. So, it makes sense that, when the governor turned to education policy, she empathized with educators and staff saying, “None of you–no educator, no school worker–should ever have to choose between your health and the students you serve.”
She described a methodical and tireless process in which her administration worked with superintendents, charter school leaders, the Department of Health, the Medical Advisory Team and the teacher’s unions to make schools safer and increase testing. Setting up a big announcement, Lujan Grisham said, “There’s no substitute for in-person learning. And there’s no negotiation about the health and safety of students families and educators.”
She emphasized that the planning and hard work has paid off, resulting in a plan that is epidemiologically sound for expanding in-person learning. “We will get this right, and we will move forward, and every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on February 8th.”
That’s two weeks from now. It looks like students won’t be watching the impeachment trial at home, but in their social studies classrooms instead.
- Read More: State of the State of Public Education
After what was a tumultuous and emotionally draining fiscal year for New Mexico and the world, the governor left her speech with a message of hope and responsibility to the Legislature. “We can choose cooperation over conflict. We can choose innovation over inertia. We can choose to remember 2020 as a low point or a turning point. Beyond getting back to normal, beyond restoring what we had–the next year, the next five years, the next hundred years, it’s ours to dream up and build, together.”