Former North Carolina governor says time to invest in education is now

September 22, 2015

By Damien Willis

LAS CR20150916__LSN-DomeniciHunt-0917~p1_300UCES – Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt addressed attendees of New Mexico State University’s eighth annual Domenici Public Policy Conference Wednesday morning at the Las Cruces Convention Center. The four-term former governor spoke about education’s role in economic development.

Hunt, touting his state’s success in improving educational outcomes and growing its economy, highlighted four areas New Mexico should begin investing in to improve the state’s long-term economic outlook.

Hunt suggested:

  • the creation of a New Mexico Board of Science, Technology and Innovation, comprised of industry leaders in the public and private sectors to shepherd the state toward a more technologically invested future.
  • a stronger focus on the state’s research universities as an economic driver. Hunt suggested that stronger partnerships between the universities, and strengthening relationships with private industry, would better serve the state’s long-term economic interests. He acknowledged work done at NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, and said additional, similar programs were needed around the state.
  • a continued focus on strengthening the state’s K-12 schools and community colleges. Hunt, a Democrat, praised Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her commitment to education reform — particularly in “measuring student progress and teacher effectiveness.” However, he insisted the state needs to pay teachers “a lot more” to make the profession more attractive. Hunt said voters will support it.
  • a stronger commitment to early childhood development and education. Hunt cited research suggesting more can be done to level the playing field during a child’s early years than later in their education. He noted that North Carolina’s Smart Start program had seen great success, and could be used as a model for New Mexico.

However, Hunt said, progress won’t come cheap.

“This takes money, folks,” he told the crowd. “It’s not magic. There’s no secret here. If you believe that New Mexico needs to break out, you’re going to have to find new sources of revenue.”

Hunt said for 35 years his state suspended a food exemption of the three-cent sales tax. He admitted it wasn’t popular, but it generated the revenue necessary to fund projects that were. He recommended New Mexico consider raising taxes or using the Land Grant Permanent Fund.

Karin Foster, a partner at SouthWest Government Affairs, which lobbies on behalf of the oil and gas industries, told the Sun-News that the fund is already spread thin.

“If you’re not making the pie any bigger, you’d have more people receiving the money,” Foster said. “And besides, under the first Ferguson Act, the land was divided up so that the fund is directly tied to the land. If you add another beneficiary, what land would their funds be tied to?”

Foster said it would negatively impact public school students across the state.

“Obviously we support early education funding, and feel like it’s a really necessary part of workforce development. But raiding the Land Grant Permanent Fund is not the way to do it,” she said.

In Hunt’s closing, he quoted former Intel executive Craig Barrett.

“Barrett said, ‘You can’t save your way out of a recession — you have to invest your way out.’ I urge you to be bold,” Hunt said.

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