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Editorial: ‘New Mexico Truth’ takes cheap political shot at NM

For five years, a Catholic community health organization has tried to get the Legislature to dip into the Land Grant Permanent Fund beyond a prudent level with vague promises of investing the money in “high-quality early childhood programs.” For five years, lawmakers’ fiscal pragmatism has prevailed over emotional pleas.

So now Catholic Health Initiatives St. Joseph’s Children, under CEO Allen Sanchez, is trashing the state’s successful tourism campaign to make its political point. After all, why do anything that might help the state’s economy and provide jobs when you can have more social programs?

New Mexico True is the ad campaign started under the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez to put the Land of Enchantment’s amazing landscapes and cultures front and center in an effort to draw visitors, dollars and investment to the state.

Ironically, while many supporters of raiding the permanent fund point to poverty programs as economic engines for New Mexico, tourism actually is one. And the negativity of the New Mexico Truth campaign can’t be good for those New Mexicans whose livelihoods rely on tourism.

In a slick parody, the New Mexico Truth campaign mocks the New Mexico True campaign by juxtaposing the state’s abysmal statistics on child poverty, education and hunger with similar images, music and narration.

It is all to supposedly bolster the group’s argument to take an additional 1.5 percent from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. Yet it does nothing to address a 2013 State Investment Council analysis that said the plan “greatly increases the risk that the Land Grant Permanent Fund will not be able to continue to deliver the same benefits to the general fund and other beneficiaries as the fund does today.”

This means that tapping the fund today could leave future New Mexicans struggling to find money to pay for basic government resources they now rely on – including those that benefit children.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund was created before statehood to finance public schools and universities, state hospitals, jails and other basic government operations via money from the state’s “vast, but finite natural resources.” The key word is finite.

The SIC warned of threats to the fund – think gasoline below $2 a gallon or a push for wind and solar energy to pick up speed – in its caution against increasing disbursements from 5.5 percent to 7 percent. It pointed out that 5 percent is the usual actuarial high-water mark.

Also disturbing beyond this basic math is New Mexico’s track record of throwing money at poorly defined programs sans accountability mechanisms in the name of doing something for children.

Earlier education-funding raids depleted the Land Grant fund corpus by $647 million in 10 years, with the Legislative Finance Committee saying much of that money didn’t go to intended purposes, and the millions that did go to pay higher teacher salaries were a poor investment if the goal was improved student achievement.

It is a sad truth that New Mexico is a beautiful state with serious problems, among them economic and educational. But for a religious organization to use those problems to try to take down a political foe and a sovereign fund the state relies on both now and in the future – with no real plan for improving things for the children it allegedly advocates for – is equally sad.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.