Nearly two-thirds of New Mexico voters believe the state should tap its $14 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to generate more funding for early childhood programs, a Journal Poll found.
Twenty-four percent of voters said they opposed tapping the fund for more money for early childhood programs. Ten percent said they did not know.
“Given the fact that people have been cautious about earmarking monies from the permanent fund, the fact that it’s a 66-24 margin, that surprised me,” said Journal Pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.
“When you ask people their gut feeling – whether they’re willing to spend more for these programs – they say yes,” Sanderoff said.
Democrats in the Legislature for years have pushed for tapping the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for significant expansion of early childhood programs available in New Mexico, such as preschool, child-care and in-home visiting for first-time parents.
A constitutional amendment adopted by the Legislature and approved by voters would be required to make the change in Land Grant Permanent Fund spending.
The repeated efforts to tap the fund, however, have been blocked by a coalition of Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats. Critics say that dedicating 1.5 percent of the Land Grant Permanent Fund to increasing early childhood programs would hinder the big trust fund’s growth, reducing future payments to the state’s education system for already approved allocations.
Supporters say New Mexico must dramatically expand its early childhood programs so that children are prepared to learn by the time they reach kindergarten.
The recurring proposal to dedicate 1.5 percent of the fund for early childhood programs would provide about $150 million in new funding in the first year.
Gov. Susana Martinez is among those opposing new tapping of the permanent fund. The governor contends the state should instead work to incrementally increase state spending on early childhood programs through the state budget, an approach she says has worked so far to keep up with parent demand for the programs.
Because state education funding already comes from the Land Grant Permanent Fund, it’s possible some early childhood programs currently in the state budget are paid for with permanent fund monies.
A majority of voters in every subcategory of the Journal Poll sample – party affiliation, age, gender, education, geographic region and ethnicity – said they would support tapping the fund for early childhood programs.
But support levels varied with party affiliations. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats said they would support tapping the fund for early childhood programs; 65 percent of independents said they support it; and 52 percent of Republicans backed it.
The measure also saw varying levels of support based on voters’ ethnicities.
Voters who identified themselves as Hispanic voiced significantly stronger support, with 80 percent saying they would support the proposition. By comparison, 57 percent of Anglos said they support tapping the fund for early childhood programs.
Female voters more strongly supported the proposal than men, with 70 percent of women giving it a thumbs up compared with 61 percent of men.
Support for the early childhood programs was consistent across all levels of educational background.
Geographically, voters in New Mexico’s Democratic-leaning north-central region – 75 percent – voiced considerably stronger support than voters on the state’s Republican-leaning east side – 55 percent. Support also was strong among voters in the Albuquerque metro area at 69 percent.
The poll asked: “Do you support or oppose spending more money from New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund each year to provide additional funds for early childhood programs?”
The Journal Poll was conducted Sept. 9 through 11 by Research & Polling Inc. The sample is based on a scientific, statewide survey of 500 voters who cast ballots in the 2010 and 2012 elections and said they were likely to vote again this year.
The margin of error for the full sample of voters is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
All interviews were conducted live by professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone. Both landlines (73 percent) and cellphone numbers (27 percent) of proven general election voters were used.