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How we spend our money reflects our values

As we prepare for the holiday season, November is a month of gratitude. Many New Mexicans we have heard from will give thanks the election season is over.

Regardless of whether our candidates won or lost, nearly all of us are thankful that the unrelenting barrage of TV ads we were exposed to in the final weeks of the race have ended!

With some distance from the election, we want to take a moment to put the money spent in 2014 races in context.

The Albuquerque Journal reported “nearly $13 million was spent on television advertising in New Mexico” alone for political races, including an estimated 11,000 gubernatorial ads. New Mexico In Depth reported 260 hours of commercials on traditional TV stations across the state aired at a cost of $12.2 million.

Splitting the difference, let’s say television ads cost $12.6 million this year. This is big money, but does not even account for the total spent across all campaigns beyond advertising. For the winning candidates and their supporters, that was $12.6 million well spent.

Other community members like us may ask, “What else could New Mexico do with $12.6 million?”

We provide some answers with an eye toward some of the most pressing needs in our community that many of you are familiar with.

For $12.6 million, New Mexico could have invested in:

  • 277 teachers (average salary of $45,419) or;
  • 317 State Police officers (average salary based on $19.05/hr x 40 hrs x 52 weeks) or;
  • 394 mental health counselors (average salary of $31,900) or;
  • 420 startup small businesses (based on $30,000 average) or;
  • 787 health insurance plans for families (based on $16,000 average) or;
  • 1,906 tuition scholarships to the University of New Mexico (based on $6,608 tuition and fees for the academic year) or;
  • 3,984 young children enrolled in Pre-K (based on $3,162/yr/child) or;
  • 10,500 tuition scholarships to Central New Mexico Community College (based on $1,200 tuition for two semesters) or;
  • 5,292,000 meals for families (based on a weekly budget of $200/family of four).

These figures highlight opportunity costs and provide a sampling of alternative investments.

If you want to play a game with friends or family during the holiday, ask: “What would you do with a million dollars?”

Or even better, during the next election season ask: “What would you do with $12.6 million?”

The point is, how we spend our money reflects our values.

An important note: The $12.6 million used for ads was private money. We’re in no position to tell people how to spend their money. But we can advocate for options and values – which mirrors the stated purpose of the TV ads.

Our intention of this piece is to create hope about assets, not despair about deficits. With that in mind, we encourage donors, political and philanthropic, to consider return on investment at a state level.

In New Mexico, our greatest assets are our people. Political contributions invested in government leaders elected to serve New Mexicans create support for a small group of New Mexicans, particularly when we consider the depressing low turnout among eligible voters in 2014.

As our leaders take or remain in office, we encourage them to remember to invest in the teachers, families, police, mental health providers, small business owners, health care, education and social programs of our state.

We also ask that they consider more seriously campaign finance laws, which could help curb the rising costs of elections.

We encourage everyone with access to monetary capital (especially those who invest in campaigns) to pitch in and grow our human capital.

After all, the best ROI comes from all of our people, not just those who run for political office.

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