A piece of perennial legislation that aims to use returns from the land grant permanent fund to pay for early childhood education passed a Senate committee on Friday night.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass SJR 5, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, on a party-line vote.
If approved by voters the proposed constitutional amendment would add a percent to the returns that are already being used to fund public education, bringing the total to 6.5 percent.
Padilla told the committee that he added some “safeguards” this year in order to make it more palatable to more fiscally conservative lawmakers.
Senate Minority Whip William Payne, R-Albuquerque, raised his concerns about taking more money out of what is commonly referred to as a “rainy day fund”. He told the sponsor and committee members that he is in favor of more early childhood education, but does not want to take money away from the rest of the state.
Similar forms of the resolution have been introduced in the legislature for four years and have never made it to the Senate floor.
Padilla said he is hopeful that this year some changes he has made will help it get through the Senate Finance Committee, where it has only been voted on once. That was last year, when the committee tabled the legislation.
Padilla told New Mexico Political Report after the vote that he added a “safeguard” that would help protect from depleting the permanent fund.
“If the corpus of the fund were to ever drop below $10 billion, then all bets would be off,” Padilla said. “This one percent would not come out that year.”
Another of Padilla’s selling points on the legislation is that it would not cost taxpayers any extra money.
“This [resolution] does not raise taxes on anybody. It’s something we can do today with money we already have available to us,” he said.
Many Republicans and some fiscally conservative Democrats oppose taking money from the permanent land grant fund due concerns of depleting the fund.
Padilla’s legislation still needs to be approved by the Senate Finance Committee and go to the Senate floor before it heads to the House for more committee assignments and a possible floor vote.
Since it is a proposed constitutional amendment, it would go to the voters and bypass the governor. Any changes to the Land Grant Grand Permanent Fund need to be done through a constitutional amendment.
If both chambers approve the resolution, it would still need to be approved by New Mexico voters. Because SJR 5 deals with land grants, it would also need to be approved by Congress.