The Senate Finance Committee voted to temporarily table a proposed constitutional amendment that would have asked voters to approve tapping a state permanent fund to pay for early childhood education.
With such little time left in the session, this action will likely permanently doom the legislation for another year.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, has been pushing the legislation for years and promised that, despite the setback, he would continue to do so.
“I’m not afraid of failure,” Sanchez said. “I’ll run through a wall if I have to.”
“You’ll have to bury me if you want me to stop,” Sanchez said later.
However, the legislation once again ran into a wall at the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. Smith indicated that he would never support the legislation.
“We’re going to disagree forever until we’re both buried,” Smith told Sanchez.
The legislation would have asked voters approving taking more money out of the state Land Grant Permanent Fund and putting that towards early childhood education initiatives. The proposed constitutional amendment would stop the funding if the fund drops below $10 billion or with a 3/5 vote of both chambers of the legislature. The fund currently has $12.6 billion.
Smith received heavy pressure over his decision in 2013 to not allow a vote on the issue, saying he wanted to shield the members of the committee from criticism. Smith has been the subject of much criticism over the decision, something that he and other members of the committee mentioned.
Smith mentioned that he was upset at “attack ads” and “marquees” that say he doesn’t care about education.
Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, said he opposed a move by activists who handed “thank you cards” to an interim committee. The “thank you card” were supposed to be from Mississippi after New Mexico slipped into 50th place on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2013 Kids Count report.
Cisneros said people should respect the legislative process.
Sanchez said he was also the target of groups saying that he “doesn’t care about children.”
At times, it seemed the debate was more about the tone of discussion around the issue rather than the issue itself.
State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, was one of the two who voted against the temporary table.
“I feel strongly that there is going to be some sort of revenue sources dedicated [to early childhood education],” Morales said.
He said he would like a funding mechanism for early childhood education much like the one that funds K-12 education.
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, was the other Senator on the committee to vote against tabling it.
“This matter has been before us many times. Although we understand that if it’s temporarily tabled, it sits there — it’s not likely that it will come back up,” Rodriguez said. “If that’s the case we need to move or take a vote finally.”
“I’m in favor of early childhood, I’m a native and my kids grew up here,” Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo, said in explaining his vote. “I just don’t think that this is the proper funding source to do this.”
One senator who voted against it acknowledged it would not be a popular decision.
“Boy am I in trouble when I get home,” Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup said.
Smith noted that he was used to that sort of attention.
Filed under: Economy, Education, Featured, New Mexico Senate · Tags: Constitutional amendment, Early Childhood Education, howie Morales, John Arthur Smith, Michael Sanchez, Nancy Rodriguez, Senate Finance Committee, William Burt