By Gary Mitchell
While Gov. Bill Richardson drummed up support Wednesday in Portales and Clovis for two state constitutional amendments designed to revamp education, a couple of area legislators remained cautious on at least one of those amendments.
Constitutional Amendment 1 would create a cabinet-level Secretary of Education position, and Constitutional Amendment 2 would increase distributions from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund.
“Amendment No. 2 is where the governor and I disagree,” said Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton. “Certainly, I support quality education and teachers, but I just think there are other ways to pay for it.”
Other options should have been explored, Moore said.
“It will reduce the size of permanent fund,” he said. “The revenue in that fund comes primarily from oil and gas proceeds, and those resources are dwindling. Eventually, they’ll be gone. That kind of scares me. And we’re only going to do this for eight years. What happens after the eight years? I’m afraid we’ll get used to having it and keep on using it.”
Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said she also opposes what she called a raid on the state’s permanent fund.
“That fund has been in place a long time,” she said. “We’ve bragged that we’ve got one of the largest permanent funds of any state. I read somewhere we enjoy the savings of $600 per taxpayer by having that permanent fund. My concern is that if we dip into the fund, it’s kinda like opening the floodgates. We’ll start seeing it as the solution to a variety of needs in our state.”
Crook said although she doesn’t support the amendment, she does support education.
“I’m not against teachers’ salaries being raised,” she said. “We just need a different way to fund it.”
Rep. Joe Campos, D-Santa Rosa, said he viewed the permanent fund as being set up for a “rainy day” fund for future generations of New Mexico’s students. And that rainy day is here now.
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he authored a provision in the amendment stating that if the amount of money in the permanent fund dipped to $5.8 billion the percent being taken out would revert to its current 4.8 percent.
“I support it,” he said, of the modified amendment. “It’s very important for our kiddos.”
Both Crook and Moore say they support Richardson’s plan for a new education secretary.
“I supported it when Gov. Gary Johnson tried to get it done,” Moore said. “I don’t think the state superintendent or the state Board of Education are very accountable.”
“Gov. Gary Johnson tried for a number of years to do away with the state Department of Education,” Crook said. “As long as it benefits my constituents, then I feel it’s a good move.”