New Mexicans ended 2022 with a very generous gift — a $3.5 billion budget surplus. And voters throughout the state have ideas about how it should be used.
A January 2023 survey by the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce and public relations firm Strategies 360 asked 500 New Mexican voters what they would like to see the surplus invested in and their overall satisfaction with the state.
Results were sometimes bleak: 51% of the respondents said the state as a whole was going in the “wrong direction.” Only 35% said the state was on the right path.
Crime and education were top priorities. The survey clocked high dissatisfaction rates among the surveyed voters, with the majority of respondents choosing crime and public education as areas warranting spending.
Almost half of New Mexican voters surveyed by the Chamber of Commerce this year said the state’s $3.5 billion budget surplus should be used to reduce crime and increase public safety, reflecting the 3 out of 4 participants who were “somewhat” or “very” dissatisfied with crime in the state.
“Forty percent of New Mexicans have witnessed shoplifting in the last 12 months,” said Chamber CEO and president Rob Black during a presentation of the results last week. “… Only 35% of people who self-identified as living financially comfortable had witnessed shoplifting. But for those who say ‘We’re struggling to make ends meet’, it’s 50%. So what you start to see there is our lower income communities are disproportionately impacted by this crime.”
At the presentation, Black said that when asked what the most effective strategies for reducing crime were, a majority said increasing funding for mental health and substance abuse services was the most important.
Forty-three percent said the surplus should be spent on education. A majority of the surveyed voters said they were unhappy with the current public education system. One in three voters said they were satisfied, and 7% said they were “very satisfied.”
The survey asked voters’ opinions on several education initiatives. Respondents were overwhelmingly in favor of investing in reading and math tutoring in K-12 public schools and providing incentives to community colleges for offering technical education, with 91% and 85%, respectively, in favor of the proposals; they were less enthusiastic about extending the school year by two weeks and reducing the number of credits to graduate, with just 46% and 32% in favor of those proposals.
Almost 80% were in favor of requiring 3rd graders in the state to read at grade level before moving onto 4th grade (with some exceptions for ELL and special needs students). Literacy can be a challenge in the state; according to the 2021 Kids Count Data Book, 76% of fourth graders in New Mexico are not proficient in reading.
Black said participants in the survey were chosen to roughly match the racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and gender makeup of the state.
This was the inaugural year of the Chamber’s “Voter Pulse” survey, so results from the survey cannot be compared to previous years.
“We think it’s going to be really important as to how we frame some of the discussions as we go through this 60-day session,” Black said.