The state House of Representatives voted Tuesday to ask New Mexicans for an additional piece of the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. The House passed the proposed constitutional amendment by a vote of 36-33 that fell mostly along party lines after hours of debate that were both wonkish and visceral — dealing with a facet of the state’s finances that is arcane but deeply rooted in New Mexico’s history. In the Land Grant Permanent Fund, lawmakers argued alternately, there is an opportunity to break generational cycles of poverty or a risk of imperiling the state’s financial future. Progressives and advocates for children’s issues have pushed similar proposals for years, arguing additional money from the fund could provide a needed boost for families in the state with the highest rate of child poverty. But critics in both parties have countered that taking an additional 1 percent of the fund would strain the Land Grant Permanent Fund in the future.
Santa Fe Catholic Archbishop John C. Wester, providing an example that being on the right side of a political party is one thing but staying on the right side of the Lord can be another, urged state lawmakers Wednesday to support a controversial proposal for funding early childhood education. Wester appealed to legislators during the annual prayer breakfast to back a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to use 1.5 percent of investment revenues each year from the state’s $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. This plan would provide an estimated $140 million annually for early childhood education, defined as applying to children from the prenatal stage to age 5. The archbishop said using the fund for early childhood education would boost the quality of life for young people in a state with one of the highest rates of child poverty. “We see the high crime rate, the poverty rate, the violence, the addictions — these things are all directly connected to early childhood,” Wester said.
Media coverage of planned tax legislation has so far focused on one hot-button topic of the proposal—reinstating a state tax on food. Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester and advocacy groups like New Mexico Voices for Children have vocally opposed the idea. But the two state representatives behind the proposal have not actually filed any legislation on the matter for the session that begins in January. Legislators could begin introducing bills on Dec. 15.
Pope Francis selected John C. Wester as the next Archbishop for the diocese of Santa Fe. Wester was recently the bishop of Salt Lake City. He will replace Archbishop Michael Sheehan, who has to retire after turning 75, in June. In a press conference, Sheehan said, according to the Albuquerque Journal::This appointment was a Pope-Francis kind of appointment, representing the values that the pope himself has,” Sheehan said of Wester. “There were choices.