An idea whose time has come
Most, if not all, candidates for the N.M. House of Representatives openly asserted their serious concerns for our public schools on the campaign trail last fall. They, if elected, would strengthen reform and change, maintain, protect and otherwise support our public schools.
When it came to funding our public schools, the tone became more halting and cautious given the current economic situation, the state’s general fund, and the “no new taxes” vows of both candidates for governor.
So, between the shortfalls and edicts, no mechanism was proposed in the session that just ended to keep the much-needed dollars flowing to our schools… except one: House Joint Resolution 1.
After being re-elected, I submitted HJR1 to keep the same level of distribution that is currently flowing to our public schools from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. It would not raise taxes; it would not take more from an already anemic state general fund; and it would go to the voters of New Mexico for a vote in November 2012.
In 2003, the voters of New Mexico raised the fund distribution from 4.7 percent to the current level of 5.8 percent to assist in paying for educational reforms passed that year. The measure also called for a gradual decrease of the distribution over time so that in 2013 it will go to 5.5 percent (a loss of about $30 million per year), and in 2017 it will go to a floor of 5 percent (a loss of about $75 million per year from the current distribution).
When the voters agreed to this, New Mexico’s economy was booming and the conventional wisdom was the state would have the funds to more than make up for the gradual decrease in the distribution. The downturn in the economy dashed that conventional wisdom, and our public schools have experienced continuous funding cuts over the last three years – raising class sizes, downsizing programs and slashing money for books and materials.
This is why I sponsored HJR1: to keep the current rate of distribution, to stem the loss of funds, to allow my colleagues an avenue by which they could support and fund our public schools without raising taxes, and to allow the citizens of New Mexico the chance to vote on their support for our public schools.
It seemed like a no-brainer, a truly win-win situation. Our schools would continue getting the current distribution, taxes would not be raised, the state’s general fund would get a break by not having to fill another $30 million hole in school funding in 2013, and the Land Grant Permanent Fund would not be “raided.”
Raiding the fund wouldn’t be necessary because when the 5.8 percent distribution began, the fund was at $6.2 billion. In 2010, after six years of the 5.8 percent distribution, the fund is at $10.5 billion. As a matter of fact, it has just been reported that the fund – that HJR1 would allocate money from – grew by over 14 percent in 2010.
After two tense committee hearings, HJR1 moved on to the House floor. I had assurances of support for HJR1 from Republican legislators in return for accepting their amendments providing safeguards to the fund. By the time these amendments were correctly drafted, bipartisan support had mysteriously evaporated.
With two Democrats voting along with the Republicans, HJR1 failed to pass the House on a 35-35 vote.
Still time to prove support of public schools
For the next few years, our public schools will again be mandated to do more with less, to teach to the highest levels with larger class sizes, to achieve excellence with outdated and insufficient textbooks, and to prepare students for 21st Century technology with no paper or toner for the copier. And without HJR1, in 2013 our public schools will be another $30 million short, which the Legislature will have to make up or our students will have to suffer again.
There will still be time for action next January to get a measure similar to HJR1 passed in the 2012 session and placed on the 2012 ballot in November for New Mexicans to decide. There is still time for my colleagues to prove their support of our public schools by funding our public schools through their actions.
Trujillo, a Democrat from Santa Fe, represents District 45 in the N.M. House of representatives. He is vice chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee and a member of the House Business and Industry Committee.
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