Early childhood amendment tabled

SANTA FE (KRQE) – A constitutional amendment deemed a top priority by the state Democratic party was tabled overwhelmingly by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans.

If voters had approved it, the constitutional amendment would have increased the distribution out of the state’s $13 billion land grant permanent fund, spending about $160 million more a year on early childhood programs.

Before the session, New Mexico Democratic Party chair Sam Bregman named the proposal one of the two biggest party priorities to get done.

He also went after Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, for not allowing the proposal to come up for a vote during the 2013 session.

“At some point, he would have to consider whether he wants to just join the governor in doing nothing and whether or not he wants to become a Republican,” Bregman said.

So Monday night, Smith held the hearing Bregman wanted and backers of the proposal had their say.

“We are a high poverty state,” said Veronica Garcia with New Mexico Voices for Children. “Early childhood [programs] can help mitigate those impacts of poverty.”

“It’s time to take it to the people who are affected by a lack of accessibility [and] affordability in high quality early childhood education,” said Peggy Lopez with People for the Kids.

But it wasn’t enough to sway the panel, which voted 8-2 to table the constitutional amendment.

Four Democrats, including Smith and the committee’s four Republicans voted in favor of stalling the bill, leaving just Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City and Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, opposed.

Lawmakers were concerned over a fiscal impact report that said that the permanent fund would be significantly depleted in the long term. Advocates have a study of their own that disputes that, but the fiscal report worried many senators who say protecting that fund is critical to getting the most out of it in the future.

Currently, the State Investment Council projects the fund will pay out $596 million to education programs and other beneficiaries

“That fund is spinning off now money, not just [future] money,” Smith said.

“It has nothing to do with whether or not we’re in favor of early childhood education,” said Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo. “What we’re in favor of is a proper funding source that doesn’t put the state into jeopardy.”

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