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$50M endowment for rural libraries moves forward

SANTA FE – The Senate Public Affairs Committee Friday gave a do-pass recommendation a bill that would establish a $50 million endowment fund to produce a permanent funding source for rural libraries.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, sponsor of Senate Bill 264 and chairman of the committee, said the proposed endowment is a way to “support and strengthen rural life” in New Mexico. He said small rural libraries now must raise operating money with activities like carwashes and enchilada dinners.

Funding would come from interest earnings on investment of the $50 million. Ortiz y Pino said the proposal would “make use of this one year bonanza of money” — more than $1 billion in “new” revenue for the state budget this year thanks to an oil and gas boom — to provide a permanent financial solution for 50 rural libraries.

Shel Neymark, who helped found Dixon’s Embudo Valley Community Library, said rural libraries are often the only organizations around that provide services like internet access, food to replace school lunches in the summer, child care and children’s activities and staging for residents and responders during natural disasters like wildfires and floods.

The $50 million endowment would generate an estimated $45,000 a year for the 50 libraries, enough for better facilities and to pay staff, said Neymark. He said a $5 million endowment proposed by the Legislative Finance Committee would provide just $4,500 per year per library, which would be “helpful” but would not be the “game changer” that earnings on $50 million would produce.

The committee approved an amendment to tweak language so that other libraries beyond the 50 now listed could receive funding in the future if they meet standards.

Also part of the libraries funding plan is a proposed constitutional amendment that would go on the ballot for state voters to consider in 2020. That measure was not up for consideration Friday.

If placed on the ballot and passed, the constitutional amendment would create an exemption to the state’s anti-donation clause, which bars use of public resources for private entities like nonprofits. Most the 50 rural libraries are owned by public entities but 15 are nonprofits.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said he couldn’t support the bill because he didn’t want to carve out an exemption for a single group. Neymark and Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said local clinics, economic development groups, agricultural organizations and other entities already are exempt from the anti-donation clause. The vote for Ortiz y Pino’s bill as 5-1, with Brandt casting the only no vote. The bill goes next to the Senate Finance Committee.

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