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Much Can Be Accomplished in Special Session

Nothing is easy these days – on that most people would agree. It’s tougher, of course, to get agreement on how to fix New Mexico’s most challenging problems. But try we must.

The alternative – called gridlock by many – will not put New Mexicans back to work and will not improve our great state for future generations. And the solutions to our big problems takes two: New Mexico’s hardworking Legislature and our dedicated governor, Susana Martinez.

The special session of our Legislature is in full swing and, we believe, it offers our elected officials, from both sides of the aisle, and Gov. Martinez a timely opportunity to tackle some of our big problems in New Mexico in addition to dealing with the redistricting plans.

Business is working hard to recover from this recession, but the recovery process is painfully slow. Businesses will create jobs when they are strong and able.

Business needs policy initiatives now that support job creation in the private sector.

At last count, about 68,000 New Mexicans were unemployed. And, it is fair to point out here that business and labor want the same thing – let’s put our people back to work. Let’s focus on policies that strengthen the private sector because that is the only way the economic pie gets bigger.

It is within this context that the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors approved the following six issues in our legislative package for this special session:

• Unemployment Trust Fund: The chamber supports keeping the employer contribution level at Schedule 1 though 2013. To shore up the fund, we support capturing $65 million for each of the next two years from the general fund reserves. This will allow the state to establish a base, a level beneath which the unemployment fund should not fall, to ensure its long-term solvency. Most important, in order to remove the politics from the fund’s management, we support convening a council that will rely on economic data to provide policy guidance and recommendations. By inviting stakeholders to the table to discuss these important issues, the state will increase predictability for small businesses and reduce the volatility in contribution payments in the long run. As New Mexico businesses struggle to grow and hire new workers, this plan keeps costs low and prevents our unemployment situation from deteriorating.

• High-wage jobs credit: The chamber supports clarification to the statute, which would allow for employee benefits to be included, along with wages, in the calculation for credit.

• In-state preference: The chamber supports legislation that gives New Mexico businesses a slight edge, a 5 percent preference, in competing for state contracts against non-New Mexico businesses.

• Driver’s license issuance: The chamber supports requiring all individuals applying for a driver’s license to be able to provide proof of citizenship or proof of legal immigration status. We also believe that New Mexico should be brought into compliance with federal law on this issue, which requires states to have confirmed proof of citizenship or legal immigration status before issuing a driver’s license.

• Capital outlay: The chamber supports passing the capital outlay bill, including the addition to it by Martinez of $42 million for roads. This package will fund badly needed infrastructure projects and put people to work.

• Social promotion: The chamber has long supported an “every child” approach to education reform in New Mexico. Making sure that “every child” can read in the third grade – or giving them remedial help – before they go to fourth grade ensures that “every child,” regardless of socio-economic background, gets a fair shot.

Legislative sessions represent our democracy at work. Now more than ever, we need a political system that works by tackling New Mexico’s problems – with a sense of urgency – and solving them.

Jed Fanning is chairman of the board and Terri L. Cole is president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

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