February 8, 2017

Papen asks committee to table bill creating early ed endowment

Margaret Wright

Oil pump in southeast New Mexico.

The Senate Education Committee has unanimously tabled a bill that would have established a new endowment for early childhood programs in the state using revenues from federal mineral rights leases on public lands — assuming Congress approved a proposal by State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn to share the funding.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, asked the committee to table the measure Wednesday, saying, “It is clear to me now … that the bill suffers from problems in its construction.”

In conversations with legislators, educators, Dunn and others, she said, she discovered “this entire approach has little support from the public.”

Opponents of Senate Bill 182, including the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said one of its faults is that it assumes the federal government would agree to share proceeds with the state from leasing 6.6 million acres of mineral rights on private land. And even if that happened, critics said, it would take a least a decade for the endowment to produce a revenue stream.

After citing a series of grim statistics regarding child well-being in New Mexico, Papen asked the committee to help her find “better ways to fund these critical priorities for children.”

Advocates of early childhood education argue that preschool programs help prepare students for kindergarten, improve reading scores and graduation rates, and lower the rates of juvenile crime and incarceration.

Papen’s bill was one of several introduced this session to fund an expansion of such programs.

Sen. Michael Padilla and Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Javier Martinez, all Albuquerque Democrats, are sponsoring similar resolutions that would let voters decide whether to pull more investment revenues from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for these efforts. Republicans, including Gov. Susana Martinez, oppose this approach. Though, if a measure passed through both houses of the Legislature, Martinez would be unable to veto it because it involves a constitutional amendment.

Ben Shelton, director of Conservation Voters New Mexico,thanked Papen in a statement issued after Wednesday’s hearing. The organization is “so grateful that she listened to CVNM members and supporters and the public who voiced their opposition to this method of funding,” the statement said.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.