Halloween is over and election night has passed. But for politicians, the scariest days of the year might be the days after the election, when campaign platitudes – “create jobs,” “grow the economy” – must be reworked into actual policy. The truly terrifying part is that many constructive reforms, those that provide new economic opportunities to the powerless, can raise the ire of well-established businesses and interest groups.
That’s why real reform is often spearheaded by people with nothing to lose. Gov. Susana Martinez’s efforts to reform occupational licensure are a case in point. Through a recent executive order, the outgoing governor aims to make it easier for New Mexicans to find meaningful and rewarding work.
An occupational license is a state-created barrier to employment. Those who wish to enter professions that require licenses must first obtain permission. To do that, one must typically pay a fee: over $800 for an aspiring pre-school teacher in New Mexico; take exams: four to be an installer of HVAC ducts; and undergo a certain amount of training: four years to be an athletic trainer.
The share of Americans needing a license to work has increased fourfold in the past 50 years. This includes nearly 26 percent of New Mexicans, according to the Brookings Institution. It’s not just doctors and nurses: The state licenses some 270 or so professions, including barbers, cosmetologists, sign language interpreters and bartenders. Focusing on low- to middle-income occupations, the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, ranks New Mexico as the 11th “most broadly and onerously licensed state” in the union.