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Permanent fund proposal headed to House floor

SANTA FE — The latest attempt to earmark more money for early childhood programs from one of New Mexico’s permanent funds is headed to the House floor.

The proposal, House Joint Resolution 1, passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 7-4 vote after several hours of debate today.

Previous proposals to increase the annual distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for home-visitation, pre-Kindergarten and other programs have stalled in the Senate in recent years due to concern about undermining the $17 billion fund’s longterm viability.

Opponents of the idea raised similar concerns during today’s hearing.

“It’s just not good fiscal management,” said Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, who instead suggested a tax could be levied on the renewable energy industry to generate more money for early childhood programs.

However, backers say a cash infusion is needed now with New Mexico struggling with chronically high poverty rates and lower graduation rates than the national average.

“We are last in everything,” said Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, during today’s debate. “We know what the solutions are, let’s get to it.”

The proposal to increase the distribution from 5 percent to 6 percent would require not only approval by lawmakers but also ratification from state voters, as it would involve amending New Mexico’s Constitution.