Legislative Actions

MLG Plans Teacher Union Buy-Off Ahead of November Election

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is getting antsy about her November 2022 re-election odds. Responding to skyrocketing homicides in 2021 and constant backlash over the “revolving door” of criminality, the governor is pushing bail reform, significant pay raises for law enforcement officers, and $277 million proposal to appease the teacher’s union.

The payout for teachers is part of a billion dollars in new spending, or about 14% over current spending levels, according to The Albuquerque Journal.

Under Lujan Grisham’s plan, about $277 million would go toward raising starting teacher pay in New Mexico to $50,000 annually — minimum pay levels for more experienced educators would also be raised — and providing salary increases for teachers and school administrators.

Democrats will tout the pay raises as a way to bring New Mexico out of its last place ranking in education nationally, but that’s a surface-level justification.

Twenty four Democrats in July signed a letter in support of President Joe Biden’s pause on oil and gas leases, but the number does not represent how many Liberals in the Roundhouse favor getting New Mexico off its oil and gas dependency. Without oil and gas, there would be no budget surplus to throw at the teacher’s union.

The proposal points to several hypocrisies. One is that teachers won’t stop climate change, whereas a billion dollars in new spending actually could. That MLG is paying off teachers rather than investing in alternative energy speaks volumes about how serious Democrats are about the environment.

Secondly, timing is everything. It’s unlikely that the idea to raise teacher pay escaped MLG last year, when the oil and gas industry brought in $5.16 billion in revenue, but this year’s $5.3 billion suddenly made a light bulb go off. It’s possible, but the more likely scenario is that she knew throwing money at a problem wouldn’t fix it, and she didn’t want to squander the political capital it offered in an election year.

If you throw $277 million at teachers two years before the election and it doesn’t move the needle on New Mexico’s last-place rank in education, you’ve not only created an attack angle for opponents, but you’ve forfeited a powerful election-year talking point.

The promise of change is more powerful than actual change, because actual change isn’t as powerful as it seems in the abstract. By dedicating that money now, MLG can campaign on how she supports education without the risk of that investment not accomplishing the desired effect. 

It’s bad fiscal policy but great politics, so long as no one asks the governor why she didn’t do it last year, or why, if she’s so concerned about climate change, she’s not spending a billion dollars investing in “green energy.” 

You can bet the media won’t ask, because challenging unions looks as bad as questioning why bad teachers deserve more money, but it doesn’t make it right. Or principled. Or beneficial to New Mexicans with kids in the public education system.

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