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Push to tap NM endowment fund falters again

SANTA FE – A proposal to divert more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund for education spending – especially home visiting and other early childhood programs – was stymied Wednesday in a Senate committee, marking the latest chapter in a string of defeats for backers of the idea.

The measure was tabled on a 6-5 vote in the Senate Rules Committee, with two Senate Democrats – Clemente Sanchez of Grants and Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces – joining the panel’s four Republican members in casting “yes” votes to table the bill.

The tabling motion was made by Papen, the Senate’s president pro tem, who said she would support an alternative measure that would provide less money for early childhood programs.

“I will support early childhood, but I will not support taking money from the permanent fund,” Papen said.

Backers of the proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1, expressed disappointment after Wednesday’s vote but vowed not to give up.

“We will not stop fighting for New Mexico’s future until this resolution goes to the voters,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque. “The hardworking people of New Mexico deserve the opportunity to have a say in the future of their families and their state.”

There have been years of debate over how New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund – and the roughly $15 billion it contains – should be properly used.

Backers of the plan to earmark more money for home visiting and other early childhood programs say a cash infusion is needed now, with the state struggling with poverty and a string of high-profile child-abuse cases.

However, opponents of the proposal say diverting more dollars from the fund, which gets income primarily from oil and natural gas taxes and investment gains, would stunt the fund’s growth and lead to less money being available for future generations to finance public schools and other basic programs.

The proposal tabled Wednesday, which passed the House 37-32 last week, called for an additional 1 percentage point distribution – or 6 percent total – from the Land Grant Permanent Fund.

If approved by voters in 2018, the additional funding would have initially been split between general education spending and early childhood programs. After a three-year phase-in, the entire amount would have been funneled to early childhood programs, though it would flow through the state’s 89 school districts.