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Use of permanent fund for early childhood ed passed by Sen. committee

SANTA FE — A proposed constitutional amendment to increase distributions from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund to afford expanded early childhood education programs passed the Senate Rules committee today after the proposed distribution rate was lowered.

The bill, Senate Joint Resolution 3, passed the Democratic-controlled Rules Committee on a party-line vote, the first action the Legislature has taken on the proposal this session. The bill will now go to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

If the constitutional amendment is approved by voters, the new distribution rate would withdraw an additional 1 percent of the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund each year to fund early childhood education. That means  about $113 million per year in new funding for the programs.

The proposed constitutional amendment would increase the total distribution rate to 6.5 percent per year, up from 5.5 percent currently.

But critics of the new spending have warned that it could tap too deeply into the permanent fund, which will provide about $535 million this year to support public education programs in New Mexico.  Opponents have warned that the permanent fund can not sustain annual distribution rates that exceed 5 percent.

The bill initially proposed to increase the permanent fund distribution rate by 1.5 percent per year, a rate that would have amounted to about $170 million in new funding for early childhood education programs.  Acknowledging concerns about the long-term health of the fund, the Senate Rules committee voted unanimously to reduce the proposed distribution rate to 1 percent.

The committee also added an amendment to force the distribution to expire after 10 years.