Bill's New Mexico Roundhouse Speech

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Conference Minister Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons' keynote address at the 9th Annual Witness for the People in January at ‘the Roundhouse,’ the New Mexico State Capitol. 

Budgets are moral documents. They declare the priorities and ethical commitments of people who write them. We, the People of New Mexico, need you, law makers of this great state, to pass a moral budget that provides a path out of poverty for our most vulnerable residents, and assures the wellbeing of all New Mexicans.

The good news is that fiscal year 2019 promises $200 million in new revenue. Lawmakers, you have some breathing room. We’ve seen moments like this one come before, only to fade away when oil and gas revenues fall. You see, the bad news continues to be that state coffers are inadequate and overly dependent on a single revenue stream - oil and gas money - guaranteeing continuing cycles of financial feast-or-famine.

New Mexico's financial crisis is not over. By crisis I mean a “critical event or point of decision which, if not handled in an appropriate and timely manner…may turn into a disaster or catastrophe.”[1] We need another 1 billion dollars to recover from the heights from which we’ve fallen. We are in this crisis because our state government has repeatedly failed to manage our financial situation appropriately and in a timely manner, and we have let you keep your seats in the hope that you would do better.

New Mexico’s financial crisis will continue as long as you, our lawmakers, refuse to replace revenues lost by cutting corporate taxes, refuse to override the governor’s veto pen, refuse to embrace and incentivize the natural and renewable resources that God has so generously bestowed upon us – solar, wind, and geothermal power.

Two years ago on the steps of this very building I cited New Mexico’s child well-being statistics. Tragically, all I needed to do was cut and paste most of the numbers into my remarks today.

  • New Mexico’s official poverty rate is third highest in the nation,[2]
  • New Mexico has  the highest child poverty rate in the nation.[3]
  • “Even with SNAP, food pantries and school lunches, more than 27 percent of all New Mexico children are food insecure – the second-worst rate in the nation.”[4]
  • New Mexico ranks 49 out of 50 quality of public education. [5]
  • Our high school graduation rate is second worst in the nation at 71%
  • New Mexico kids are on the bottom rung of the ladder when it comes to their chance for success.[6]
  • New Mexico’s unemployment rate is 1.9% above the national average,[7] 49out of the 50[8]
  • It’s no wonder New Mexico leads the nation in property crimes and ranks second in the nation in violent crimes per capita. The Department of Justice statistics prove a direct correlation between poverty and crime.
  • The Recidivism rate for New Mexico’s released inmates in 44% - second highest in the nation; 67% of female inmates end up back in prison within 4 years of release.[9]

Our problems haven’t improved in the boom- years. Our problems can’t be solved by being siloed. They are all related; growing out of a common root: poverty.

Governor Martinez, you are dead wrong believing that “tough-on-crime” laws will improve the crime statistics in New Mexico. Your plan is ineffective, feeds on fear, and is immoral,[10] making it a huge part of the problem. I congratulate the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan legislation moving to the House floor in the next few days.

Harsher penalties do nothing to curb crime.[11] Longer sentences serve the interests of the private prison corporations that profit from the sins of already-exploited persons, and increase campaign contributions from private prison profiteers.[12] Longer sentences increase the likelihood of kids becoming criminals because their parents were locked up during formative years in their growing up[13]; increase the percentage of state income required to run detention facilities while reducing the percentage of state income available for poverty-reducing programs, and rob schools and healthcare programs of desperately needed funds. Longer sentences and harsher penalties steal whatever hope remains of already hope-deprived people. Inmates with nothing to gain quickly turn into inmates with nothing to lose. I know. I’ve worked behind the walls as a state prison chaplain. Inmates with nothing to lose present a far greater danger to prison employees and to the general public upon release.

Families who already don’t feel safe won’t feel safer knowing law enforcement officers are immune from accountability. Good cops, the vast majority of police officers, officers who are following their training, don’t need immunity.

The Bible says: 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.[14] You are making wonderful first steps!

Pass HJR1, an investment of more than $160 million in our children’s future by increasing access to early childhood education, providing a strong return on investment to New Mexicans and creating more than 4,000 new jobs. 

Pass the bipartisan bill that takes on crime effectively and addresses recidivism rates.

Here are next steps we the people are calling you to take:  

  • Say no to tax reform that expands the Gross Receipts Tax to include food. We already have the highest hunger rate I the nation! Expansion of the Gross Receipts Tax to include food sets up obstacles rather than paving the path for people striving to work their way out of poverty.
  • Say no to taxing non-profits and charities who are making up the difference for families in New Mexico.
  • Instead, eliminate previously passed tax cuts that have inverted our tax system so that ones who can afford to pay the most actually pay the most, and everyone pays their FAIR share. That means fair taxes on manufacturing!
  • Hold accountable corporations who made promises in exchange for tax breaks and other incentives. Unkept corporate promises should mean terminating their incentives and tax breaks.
  • Adopt equitable and adequate individual income tax increases that result in all of us paying what we can truly afford to pay.
  • Fully fund every child’s education, programs providing paths out of poverty and into food security, and provides adequate medical care for everyone.
  • Say no to ecological devastation so that New Mexico remains the Land of Enchantment, and embrace and incentivize renewable energy initiatives.
  • As long as we are asking, make passing a bi-partisan, veto-proof, living wage bill a priority for 2019, once our current governor is gone

I know it’s an election year. I know you need big money for your campaigns. The pressures on you are enormous. I also know what pressures we the people struggle under! I know moments will come when ‘the party’ or your campaign contributors ask you to cast your vote a particular way. In those moments we, the people of New Mexico, ask you to remember us! Ask yourself, “Will my ‘yea’ or will my ‘nay’ benefit the majority of my constituents, and in particular, our children? Will my “yes” or will my “no” share benefits and burdens equitably?

To do otherwise is

to steal meals from the bellies of hungry ones
to wring dry already thirsty ones
to force families from their beds into homelessness
to close shivering ones out in the cold
to abandon sick ones and confined ones in their despair

You see, Jesus told a story about times like ours. It’s a warning story foreshadowing a judgement day.

      “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all [peoples] will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to [one side] and goats to [the other].[15]

41–43           [The One doing the sorting] “will turn to the ‘goats,’... and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44    “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45    “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’[16]

Members of the House and Senate, give the people of New Mexico the safety and security they need by adopting a moral budget that provides a path out of poverty for our most vulnerable residents, and assures the wellbeing of all New Mexicans.

In exchange, we the people promise to you that when we read our ballots on Tuesday, June 5, and Tuesday, November 6 we will remember you! We will ask ourselves, “Which names here made it easier to keep food on my table? Which candidate quenched my thirst for a better future? Which person is most likely to help me keep a roof over our heads, and have some left over to give the kids a nice Christmas? Who is most likely to remember that I am a person – not a statistic or an issue – and will govern with real people like me in mind?”

We will remember who got the breaks that threaten to break our backs, and who got the cuts that stab at the heart of our values. We will remember who played politics with our wellbeing. And then we’ll make our judgements and mark our ballots.

There is still time and so there is yet hope! What you do with the remainder of this legislative session will make all the difference for us, your 2,088,070 constituents.

The words recorded in the Book of Isaiah point us to a new path if we will dare to take it:

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. 
You’ll be known as [ones] who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. [17]

That is the state of New Mexico as we the people see it.



[2] 19.2%, with a supplemental poverty rate of 15.7%, eighth highest in the country even though the cost of living is 5.6% less than the national average.

[3] NM leads the nation with the most children under age 5 living in poverty – 36.2 percent, according to just-released U.S. Census Bureau data.


[5] New Mexico schools scored 66.2% out of 100% on Education Week’s Quality Counts report card.


[7] According to the BLS current population survey (CPS)the unemployment rate for New Mexico fell 0.1 percentage points in December 2017 to 6.0%


[9] pdf

[10] “New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of inmates in privately run, for-profit prisons than any other state.”


[12] For a list of articles documenting this fact see:


[14] Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (2 Co 8:14). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[15] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Mt 25:31–33). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[16] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Mt 25:41–46). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[17] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Is 58:9–12). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.