Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, center, gestures while making a point after other senators, including Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, right, voted Monday to table a proposal to take more money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood programs. The 7-4 vote in the Senate Rules Committee dimmed the proposal\’s prospects for this year\’s session. (Eddie Moore/Journal)
SANTA FE — A proposal to take more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs has hit a familiar brick wall in the Roundhouse despite support from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The Senate Rules Committee voted 7-4 today to table the proposed constitutional amendment, meaning it’s unlikely to resurface during the 60-day session that ends March 16.
Backers have pushed for nearly a decade to take more money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for home visiting and other early childhood programs, but have been unable to get such a proposal through the Senate.
Three Democrats — Sens. Bill Tallman of Albuquerque, Clemente Sanchez of Grants and Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces — joined with the committee’s four Republicans today in voting to table the proposal. Both Sanchez and Papen also voted against a similar proposal in 2017.
“We have been discussing for 9 years what is the reasonable percentage of children to leave behind and the answer is zero,” said Allen Sanchez, the executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops and the president of CHI St. Joseph’s Children, a group that provides early childhood programs.
“The legislators today voted that it is okay to leave the children behind,” he told the Journal.
House Joint Resolution 1 calls for the annual distribution rate from the $17 billion fund to go up by 1 percentage point — from 5 percent to 6 percent — into perpetuity.
That would generate an estimated $170 million for early childhood programs during the 2022 budget year, the earliest it would likely be in place, according to a fiscal analysis of the legislation.
Supporters have argued that a cash infusion into programs benefiting the state’s youngest residents is needed now, given that New Mexico is grappling with chronically high poverty rates and a string of high-profile child abuse cases.
“We can’t get the time back for the kids in this state who grow up in horrible conditions,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s sponsors, who became emotional when talking about his own 5-year old son.
But opponents of the idea, which include the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, have raised concerns the plan would undermine the fund’s long-term health. They also point out the state has already ramped up spending on early childhood programs in recent years.
A State Investment Council analysis of the measure predicted the Land Grant Permanent Fund would continue to grow in size over the next 20 to 30 years even at the higher distribution rate, due to expectations of “healthy if not robust” tax and royalty inflows from the oil and natural gas industry during that period.
But the analysis also concluded the permanent fund would distribute more money to public schools and other beneficiaries in the long run if it remained at the 5 percent level, given the expectation that the fund would grow more rapidly at the lower distribution rate.
Meanwhile, today’s vote comes just two days after the Senate voted 39-2 in favor of legislation to create a new early childhood education department in state government.
It also left some backers fuming.
“‘Let’s just let the kids sink’ is our attitude,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who described himself as outraged by the vote.