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Permanent fund proposal gets another chance

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A plan to take more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to expand early childhood programs has been resuscitated at the Roundhouse.

Just two days after the measure stalled in the Senate Rules Committee because several senators left before a vote could be taken, a scaled-back version won the panel’s approval Monday.

The committee voted 6-2 to advance the proposal, with several former skeptics voting in support of the revised measure.

“We need to do something, because what we’re doing is not working,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, a Grants Democrat, who voted in favor of the measure.

However, the proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1, advanced only after backers agreed to two changes aimed at reducing its fiscal impact.

One change would reduce the proposed increase in the annual distribution rate from the Land Grant Permanent Fund from 1 percentage point to 0.5 percentage point. The rate is currently set at 5% of the fund’s average value over a five-year period.

That revision would reduce the amount generated for home visiting and other early childhood programs, which had initially been pegged at $180 million a year.

Meanwhile, the other change would block the higher distribution rate if the fund’s total value dipped below $17 billion. It was valued at $19.7 billion earlier this year.

Backers of the idea have been trying for about a decade to get it passed, but despite winning approval in the House, they have been repeatedly stymied in the Senate.

“It’s imperative that these funds be made available as we build a world-class early childhood educational system,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, one of the measure’s sponsors.

Despite Monday’s vote, the measure still faces tough sledding to win final approval before the 30-day session ends at noon Thursday.

It now advances to the Senate Finance Committee, where it has died in some previous years. If passed there, the measure would still have to win approval on the Senate floor and then be accepted by the full House before adjournment.

Lawmakers have already sent a separate early childhood funding bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for final approval that would use some of New Mexico’s budget surplus to pay for prekindergarten, home visiting and other programs through a recently established state agency.

That measure, House Bill 83, calls for $20 million to be appropriated from the fund during the 2022 budget year – and larger amounts in future years. It’s expected to be signed into law in the coming days.

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