Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat, said his top priority if he’s elected would be to generate a more stable revenue stream for state public schools and universities, citing his own son’s recent decision to leave New Mexico for college.
“I’m tired of the roller coaster ride in education funding,” Muñoz told the Journal. “We need stability.”
To accomplish that, he said, he would support an “all of the above” approach to using state trust land, while touting an increase in wind and solar energy exports as one way to generate more state revenue.
The State Land Office oversees more than 9 million acres of state trust land and roughly 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights that are intended to help fund public schools, higher education and other beneficiaries.
Revenue from state trust land comes from oil and natural gas royalties, grazing rights and energy leases, and the land commissioner has broad authority to allow activities and authorize land swaps.
Muñoz has served in the state Senate since 2009 and is regarded as a business-friendly Democrat. Among other notable bills, he sponsored 2013 legislation to shore up the state’s cash-strapped retirement system for state and local government employees.
In a Tuesday interview, Muñoz said he would seek to balance sportsmen’s access to state trust lands with other revenue-generating activities.
He also floated the idea of earmarking revenue from certain energy-related taxes for early childhood programs, saying, “At this point, I think we need to fix something.”
New Mexico had the nation’s worst high school graduation rate in 2015, and recent attempts to take more money from the state’s largest permanent fund for home visiting and other early childhood programs have stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
State lawmakers have also signed off on budget cuts and other solvency measures in response to two consecutive years of less-than-expected revenue collections caused primarily by plummeting oil and natural gas prices.
Meanwhile, two other Democrats – Garrett VeneKlasen and former Land Commissioner Ray Powell – have also launched campaigns, suggesting a lively primary election contest in 2018.
On the GOP side, another former land commissioner, Pat Lyons of Cuervo, is the only candidate, as incumbent Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a Republican, recently decided to forgo a 2018 re-election bid and instead run for Congress.