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New fund payout plan pushed

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SANTA FE – A constitutional change aimed at making sure distributions to public schools from the state’s big permanent fund don’t dip in another couple of years is languishing in a House committee, but Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, says he may have a plan to resurrect it.

House Joint Resolution 3 would keep the annual distributions from the Land Grant Permanent Fund at 5.5 percent – the current rate – rather than have them decline to 5 percent in the 2016-17 budget year, as the Constitution currently mandates.

The decline was built into a long-term scenario that voters approved in 2003 to finance education reforms.

HJR 3 is in direct competition with a high-profile, Democratic-backed measure to increase the distribution from the same fund to 7 percent and divert the additional dollars to early childhood programs.

That proposal, also a constitutional amendment, cleared its first Senate committee on Wednesday.

Republicans and business groups object to both constitutional amendments, saying they would erode the fund. Martinez joined GOP members of the House Voters and Elections Committee in setting aside HJR 3 earlier this week.

On Thursday, he said he is considering proposing changes to it that would keep the future distributions at 5 percent, but build in the flexibility for them to increase – to 5.5, or perhaps 5.8 – if certain economic and financial criteria were met.

“My gut reaction is that 7 percent is too high,” Martinez told the Journal.

The increased distributions could be used for early childhood and other education efforts, roads, and job creation, he suggested during a meeting of the Voters and Elections Committee. The panel heard a presentation by the State Investment Council but didn’t act on HJR3.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund, currently valued at $13 billion, gets revenue from activities on state trust lands and distributes money to public institutions, with 84 percent of it earmarked for public schools.

“I really feel that the permanent fund … belongs to public schools,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who is sponsoring HJR 3 and has pushed similar proposals for the past three years.

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