State Rep. Moe Maestas sat quietly on a metal folding chair, his hands clasped together, as he watched the three-hour debate play out around him on the Senate floor. At stake was hundreds of millions of dollars for early childhood and public education programs.
As the call to vote came around 5 p.m. Thursday, Maestas began twiddling his thumbs, tapping his right foot. He had been waiting for this moment for more than five years. Capitol insiders might say the outcome was never in question. The 42-member state Senate voted 26-16 in favor of a ballot question asking New Mexico voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the state to tap into its now $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to create an annual revenue stream for prekindergarten and K-12 programs.
After the vote, Maestas, who co-sponsored the effort with Rep. Javier Martínez, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat, said, “This is a victory for the children of New Mexico.
Advocates behind a years-long effort to draw more money for early childhood programs from a multibillion-dollar state investment fund celebrated a major triumph Tuesday. Legislation is headed to the Senate floor for the first time following a 7-4 vote of approval by the Senate Finance Committee — known for stalling similar legislation dating back to 2014. After Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a sponsor of House Joint Resolution 1, said he felt “fantastic, man, fantastic.” “It’s amazing — the committee finally held a hearing on it, they looked at the figures and realized the fund can handle it,” Maestas said in an interview. The Senate Finance Committee insisted on a compromise amendment that would increase the amount drawn from the now $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to provide additional support for K-12 schools, which already receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the endowment each year.
Tapping revenues for preschool programs from a massive state investment fund has been a Sisyphean task for advocates. Year after year, lawmakers and others who back the plan have pushed legislation through the House — like a boulder up a hill — only to see it stall in Senate committees led by fiscally conservative Democrats. House Democrats finally may have a chance to see the measure clear both chambers and reach the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said she would sign it. A more progressive group of Senate leaders say they favor House Joint Resolution 1 — and might even increase the amount to be withdrawn from the endowment to boost funding for K-12 public schools. On Friday, the House voted 44-23, mostly along party lines, to approve HJR 1, which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing for a 1 percent annual distribution from the $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund — nearly $200 million a year — to pay for services for New Mexico’s youngest children.
Proposed education budget cuts could worsen racial and economic inequities in the state, according to some school superintendents. Veronica Garcia, the superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said that if the Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budget cuts in education are passed, she expects to be looking at a $10.3 million hole in her district’s budget. She is starting with a $7 million deficit in her school budget and if the LFC’s proposed cuts go through, she expects to see another $3.3 million loss. Like the state, Garcia has to balance her budget annually. She says that situation will leave her with no choice but to make cuts that will enlarge classroom size, reduce programming and shrink ancillary roles such as social workers, librarians, nurse aides and nurses.
For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse.
There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote.
As the state prepares to consolidate most services for its youngest residents in a newly created department, the House Education Committee on Wednesday approved a pair of measures with different strategies for funding an expansion of programs for children from birth to age 5. Neither idea is new, and both — which head to the full House of Representatives for consideration — rely heavily on the state’s recent windfall of oil and gas revenues. But one measure drew wide support in a committee room crowded with a diverse array of proponents on both sides of the political aisle, while the other — which would create a far larger revenue stream for New Mexico’s kids — intensified an ongoing clash over the potential risks and rewards of tapping an investment fund that now holds nearly $20 billion. The debate suggested that although most state leaders favor increases in early childhood services in an effort to improve education and economic outcomes, the surge in funding some advocates have sought for years isn’t likely to come in this legislative session. “This bill has been before you for far too long,” Paul Gibson, co-founder of the social activist group Retake Our Democracy, told the House Education Committee, urging lawmakers to move forward House Joint Resolution 1 — which would let New Mexico voters decide on a constitutional amendment calling for a 1 percent withdrawal from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made her last pitch to a Senate committee Friday for additional funding for early childhood education. But she couldn’t get a vote. With her 3-year-old granddaughter in tow, the newly elected Democratic governor called for lawmakers to consider using a larger share of the state’s nearly $18 billion land grant permanent fund to pay for pre-kindergarten programs.
Lujan Grisham had backed a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to take an additional percentage point from the fund for early childhood education, on top of the 5 percent the state currently uses each year for public schools and other institutions. When Democrats joined with Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee to block that idea, Lujan Grisham threw her support behind a measure that called for half a percent. Senate Bill 671 passed the chamber’s education committee.
ByMilan Simonich and Andrew Oxford, Santa Fe New Mexican |
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took the unusual step Wednesday of pressing for enabling legislation on a constitutional amendment that hasn’t been sent to the voters, much less been approved by them. With her 3-year-old granddaughter, Avery Stewart, on her lap, Lujan Grisham served as an expert witness for Senate Bill 671. This proposal is contingent on voters someday approving the expenditure of half a percent of the $18 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood education. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, helped get the bill through the Senate Education Committee on a party-line 6-3 vote. All the members of her party supported it, but the Republicans voted against it.
Several Democrats joined with Republicans on a state Senate committee Monday to block a proposed constitutional amendment on early childhood education funding, snubbing a priority for members of their party in the New Mexico House and posing a challenge to the agenda of newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Senate Rules Committee tabled a resolution that would have asked voters to decide whether the state should take an additional 1 percent of the nearly $18 billion land grant permanent fund each year to expand services to the youngest New Mexicans. Backed by a coalition that includes liberal advocacy groups and the Catholic Church, the measure has foundered for years in the face of opposition from budget hawks among Senate Democrats who contend the proposal would undercut the growth of an endowment that is key to the state’s school system. But Lujan Grisham urged lawmakers in her State of the State Address this year to consider taking a “responsible pinch” — a “poquito” — of the fund to pay for more early childhood education programs.
Within hours of the Rules Committee’s vote on Monday, the Democratic governor offered up an alternative to the tabled bill, proposing to take half as much money and designate it specifically for pre-Kindergarten, with a separate provision she argued should assuage the concerns of fiscal conservatives concerned about depleting the fund. If Lujan Grisham can win support for that idea, she will have pulled off a victory that has eluded Democratic leaders in the House.
The state House of Representatives voted 41-27 to advance a proposal to draw money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for more prekindergarten programs.
“This bill … is a step in the right direction,” said Rep. Javier Martinez, a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat. “It could transform education in the state of New Mexico.” House Republicans, all of whom voted against the measure, cautioned that any drawdown from the endowment would affect its ability to grow. “Should we permanently damage the goose that lays the golden egg?”