By Brian Moore
Many of you have seen a letter published in the Albuquerque Journal from Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, about education reform and the Constitutional amendments on the ballot Sept. 23. I thought perhaps your readers might appreciate a different view.
Let me start by saying that I agree about the need for true education reform, and I agree that at least part of the solution involves a new cabinet-level Secretary of Education. I believe our current state school board is ineffective and not appropriate for improving education in New Mexico. I disagree, however, about the “education reform act” that was passed in the last Legislative session.
I think the whole effort was an attempt to fix the Albuquerque public schools and shove that solution down the throats of the rest of the public school system, most notably smaller, rural schools. I hope in the next few years the Legislature will come to realize that one size does not fit all and that we need to find different solutions to different problems all over New Mexico, not just Bernalillo County.
The most alarming part of Rep. Stewart’s letter, however, concerns our Permanent Fund. First of all, that fund is called the “Land Grant Permanent Fund,” and was set up when New Mexico became a state to provide an endowment for future generations. In the beginning, we didn’t even take any of the earnings; all income stayed in the fund.
Eventually, as the fund grew, we found a sound way to take part of the income and use it to benefit specific beneficiaries, including New Mexico State University, Coal Miner’s Hospital, and the New Mexico School for the Deaf and others, including public schools.
We have found over the years that we generate so much money (over $300 million last year), that we can spend some of that money on other things. But the Legislature doesn’t have enough money (even though we were one of the two states in the black going into 2003), so we want to take more out of our Land Grant Permanent Fund.
Have we tried trimming spending in other areas so we can afford all these new education incentives? Have we looked at ways we can be more productive and efficient with your tax dollars? No, all we did during the last session was spend every dime you sent us, every dime we had saved and every dime we thought you might send us next year.
On paper, for the new budget year we just started, we show an operating reserve, a savings account. But if you really look at the numbers, you will see that we probably overprojected revenues (we usually do) and certainly underprojected expenses (mainly in Medicaid). So this raid on our grandchildren’s permanent endowment is simply to protect the Legislature from ourselves.
And when we spend that money, what’s next? Will state government figure new ways to wring more dollars from you, or will the Legislature finally get realistic and make the kind of decisions that will keep New Mexico solvent and our Land Grant Permanent Fund intact for the generations to come?
I think the Legislature will only come to their senses if the voters decide enough is enough and vote against this raid on our Permanent Fund.
Please read and study these important Constitutional issues. It’s important that we make the right choices on our ballots.
Republican Brian Moore of Clayton represents Curry, Harding, Quay, Roosevelt, San Miguel and Union counties in the state’s House of Representatives. He can be contacted at 374-9681 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org