Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday rebuilding New Mexico’s beleaguered economy will take time and smart policymaking decisions, while also acknowledging at least one business relief program launched this year has largely missed its mark.
Speaking virtually to members of an Albuquerque commercial real estate group, Lujan Grisham said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to “thousands” of businesses closing statewide.
“This has had dire economic consequences,” the governor said. “We’re going to have to rebuild the state back and we’re going to have to think very carefully about how we’re doing that.”
In order to revive the state’s economy, Lujan Grisham cited a need for increased broadband infrastructure. She also said state officials are looking into the feasibility of contracting with restaurants to provide meals for public schools and senior centers.
New Mexico added 15,000 new jobs last year, Lujan Grisham said, but the state’s economic growth has been abruptly halted by the pandemic.
In fact, unemployment levels in New Mexico are among the highest in the nation, with the state reporting an 11.3% jobless rate in August.
The first-term Democratic governor cited several initiatives aimed at providing financial relief to hard-hit local governments and businesses, including $150 million in federal CARES Act dollars that was distributed by her administration this month.
In addition, Lujan Grisham referenced a bill passed by the Legislature during a June special session that made up to $400 million available from a state permanent fund for small business loans.
However, many businesses have had their applications for funding rejected under the program and less than $20 million in loans had been approved as of last week, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Lujan Grisham acknowledged the issues, and said the program could be retooled during the 60-day legislative session that starts in January.
“Far too many businesses … can’t meet the very strict criteria,” the governor said during the online webinar hosted by NAIOP. “I think there’s got to be more that we can do.”
She also said a state Economic Recovery Council she created in April would be releasing a detailed plan for jump-starting the economy in the coming weeks.
Despite the downturn in the state’s economy, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is well positioned to recover, saying more businesses are moving into the state than are leaving it and asserting that housing prices statewide have largely held steady or gone up.
The governor has faced criticism from Republicans and some business groups for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for imposing business and travel restrictions that, in many cases, are among the nation’s strictest.
But she defended her administration’s response on Tuesday, saying, “If folks want to know if I err on one side or the other, I err on the side of saving lives.”