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Early childhood funding measure clears first hurdle, but tough road awaits

A scaled-back change to New Mexico’s Constitution that would earmark more money from the state’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs was approved in a Senate committee this morning.

The Senate Rules Committee voted 5-1 in favor of the proposal, which would require statewide voter approval in 2016 in order to take effect.

It would earmark an annual 1 percent distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood programs around the state. That percent had been higher, but backers of the measure agreed to have it reduced in order to assuage concerns.

They also agreed to a 10-year “sunset” clause that would make the higher distribution levels temporary.

“I’m confident we have made the necessary adjustments to the legislation … and that it is in better shape than it ever has been before,” Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, the measure’s sponsor, said after today’s vote.

Despite today’s approval, the permanent fund proposal could face troubled waters as it moves forward.

It has stalled in previous legislative sessions in the Senate Finance Committee and, even if approved by the full Senate, could face long odds in the Republican-controlled House.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund had a $14.5 billion balance, as of the start of this year. Distributions from the fund for public schools and other state programsĀ is nearly $600 million for the current budget year.

The distribution levels would increase by about $150-$200 million under the legislation pending at the Roundhouse, Padilla said.

The permanent fund measure now moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee.