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New Mexico governor supports tapping endowment for education

January 11, 2021 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — With the Legislature shifting to the left and the pandemic exacerbating educational inequities, New Mexico Democrats say they’re on the cusp of finishing a decades-long fight to withdraw more money from the state’s largest and oldest endowment to fund early learning initiatives.

“I don’t want to jinx it. I feel very good about getting this resolution over the finish line,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told legislators in video chat Monday.

Unlike allocating state revenues through a simple spending bill, legislators would have to pass a resolution that would set the stage for voters to consider amending the constitution to loosen restrictions on a permanent fund used to finance various state projects and programs.

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Democrats want to take 1% more from the Land Grant Permanent Fund each year and expand the beneficiaries to include prekindergarten. It currently only funds K-12 programs.

Consideration of the resolution follows an election in which Democrats solidified their majorities in both legislative chambers. Fiscally conservative Democrats also were replaced with new members who are more supportive of spending measures.

Democrats said Monday that public opinion polling commissioned by supporters of the measure shows increased favorability among voters, with 63% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats indicating support. The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted last week by Latino Decisions and had a 4% margin of error.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund has grown to around $20 billion in part because it pays out much less than it collects from land uses like oil and natural gas drilling and mineral mining. It’s also fueled by returns on stock market investments.

It is one of the largest endowments in the U.S. of any type of institution, topped only by large universities such as Harvard.

Withdrawing from the fund would lead to more immediate spending on early childhood education but less of an increase of the fund in the future.

“We know that we are undercutting current generations for this mythical future generation. The 1% will not get us close to generational equity,” said Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, who is co-sponsoring the resolution to put the measure on the ballot.

With an annual growth rate above 10% and a payout of less than 5%, the payouts to fund current programs could be increased by much more without endangering future payouts, the Albuquerque Democrat argues.

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If approved during the upcoming legislative session, the measure could be voted on as early as November and as late as 2022.

The Land Grant Permanent Fund is an artifact of New Mexico’s colonial history created by the transfer of federal land to state control ahead of the territory’s transition to statehood in 1912.

New Mexico has amended laws governing the fund a number of times, including in 2014 to expand its portfolio beyond land extraction revenues to market investments.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.