Is New Mexico moving in the right direction?

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In a “dramatic” finding, only 16 percent of New Mexico business leaders polled believe the state is headed in the right direction, according to a new survey to be released today.

That figure is a drop from 24 percent last year and 39 percent in 2015.

“That’s dramatic,” said Mike Petro, executive vice president of the Committee for Economic Development, which commissioned the poll. “You know that when business people feel that way … that’s not good news for the overall economy.”

The annual survey also showed continued overwhelming support among business leaders for state campaign finance and ethics reforms.

The Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Economic Development is a nonpartisan business-led policy group. Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc. conducted the poll of 251 people between Dec. 14 and Jan. 19.

Brian Sanderoff, president of the polling company, called the results “striking” and said they mirror polls of the general public that show an increasing number of people who say the state is not on track.

“Obviously, New Mexico has been struggling in terms of our stagnant economy, our stagnant population growth” and budget problems this year and next, he said.

The survey also showed an “overwhelming consensus and support” among business leaders for “more transparency and more government accountability,” Sanderoff said.

Adopting reforms to alleviate those concerns might make business leaders more confident about the direction in which the state is going, he said.

For example, 92 percent of those polled either strongly support or somewhat support publicly disclosing all political contributions and expenditures from individuals, corporations, political action committees, nonprofits and unions.

And creation of an independent ethics commission to write and oversee rules on ethical behavior among public officials got an 83 percent approval rating. Lawmakers are considering several different proposals for an ethics commission in this year’s session.

jumpchart“Business believes that a government that is more open and forced to listen more is a better government,” said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

Cole said she was “not at all surprised” by the 16 percent rating business leaders gave the state’s direction. “New Mexico continues to be challenged economically. There is no doubt about that reality,” she said.

Economic problems are largely because the state has been too dependent on the oil and gas industry, she said. At the same time, neighboring states are adding jobs and population.

“We are not keeping up even with our neighboring states,” she said. “We have been unable to replace the jobs we lost even prior to the recession.”

However, she said the state would be in “much, much worse shape” were it not for its economic development programs, including the Local Economic Development Act and the Job Training Incentive Program.

The Legislature last month included a $4 million cut to the act as part of a budget-balancing measure, but Gov. Susana Martinez line-item vetoed the reduction.

“These programs are working, but it takes time and staying the course, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” Cole said.

Other findings in the study:

• Consistent with last year’s study, 86 percent said big campaign donors have either a great deal of impact or some impact on state government corruption.

• 89 percent strongly or somewhat support limiting campaign contributions from individuals and PACs.

• 88 percent say the ethical behavior of state elected officials over the past 20 years has been either a somewhat or very serious issue.

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