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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Occupy protests fail to derail Governor’s speech

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By Lang Chen / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Occupy New Mexico protesters greeted Gov. Susana Martinez with chants and jeers Tuesday as she stepped up to give her State of the State Address at the Roundhouse.

Video footage from a KOB report shows New Mexico State Police escorting six protesters shouting, “Whose house? Our house!” out of the Roundhouse on the first day of the 2012 New Mexico legislative session.

Martinez waited for the crowd to settle before she spoke.

Occupy the Roundhouse demonstrations were organized by Occupy New Mexico, a group comprising Occupy movements across the state, including the Occupy and (un)Occupy Albuquerque groups.

“I’d like her to say she’s going to represent the people and not big interests,” Miguel Pacheco, a protester from Las Vegas, NM said. “I’d like to hear her say that she’s here to protect the health and welfare of the people she took an oath to protect and represent rather than the big corporations that are pouring in money right and left and she’s dancing to their tune.”

(un)Occupy Albuquerque protesters walked more than 45 miles to Santa Fe from Bernalillo to join the protest.

The rest of Martinez’s speech went smoothly as she focused primarily on the state budget, education reform and tax breaks for small businesses.

Martinez celebrated her elimination of the state’s budget deficit over the past year, citing strict cuts to state government’s budget such as eliminating excess personnel at the governor’s residence and selling the state’s private jet.

She said efforts were made to protect classroom and Medicaid spending as much as possible.

“Thinking about the state of our state last year, it gives me great pleasure to report to you today that New Mexico’s financial house is back in order,” Martinez said. “We are no longer running a budget deficit; in fact, our historic deficit has now become a projected $250 million surplus.”    

Much of Martinez’s speech addressed a topic she has focused on during most of her time in office: education reform.

In the past year, Martinez introduced a grading system for public schools; each school is scored using letter grades A, B, C, D and F based on standardized test scores and yearly student improvement.

She said that during this year’s legislative session she hopes to reform the state’s education system by making it impossible for children to pass through the third grade unless they can read.

“Passing children who can’t read from one grade to the next is not compassionate,” she said. “It is morally wrong. Are we going to turn a blind eye to the fact that 80 percent of our fourth graders cannot read proficiently? Let’s do something about it.”

Martinez proposed allocating $17 million toward reading reforms, which would include more reading assessments given in classrooms and tutors to help children who are behind.

Martinez also proposed tax breaks that would help small, local businesses compete with large, multi-state corporations. She proposed exempting small businesses that earn less than $50,000 per year from the gross receipts tax. The tax break would help about 40,000 small businesses in the state, she said.

“Many of New Mexico’s successful businesses started at kitchen tables with not much more than a family’s savings and a dream,” she said. “We need to invest in a culture of entrepreneurship so more of these family businesses can make it—so they can grow and hire more New Mexicans.”

Martinez also addressed the hot-button debate surrounding whether New Mexico driver’s licenses should be issued to undocumented immigrants.

She asked legislators to repeal a law passed during former Gov. Bill Richardson’s term that allows undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses.

“This issue has been debated thoroughly,” she said. “The desire of New Mexicans is clear. And it’s time to vote to repeal this law.”