A leading state Senate Democrat is blasting Republican leaders in the Legislature for leaving a bill hanging that could have increased funding for the state’s K-12 public schools by about $100 million a year starting next January.
Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said that over the last two days of the session, several Republican lawmakers told him they would schedule a committee hearing for his proposed constitutional amendment to let voters decide whether to take more money from the state’s $15 billion land grant endowment for public schools. But instead of scheduling a hearing, he said, they told him they didn’t like the bill.
“All I can take from that is that they just don’t like public education in New Mexico,” Padilla said Thursday afternoon after the close of the 30-day session. “They played a game for 36 to 48 hours to say it was going to be heard. … Much to my dismay, it was not.”
Padilla said his proposal included enough money to preserve the jobs of 1,500 to 2,000 teachers in a state that almost always is listed near or at the bottom when it comes to national education rankings.
State senators already had approved Padilla’s resolution, mostly along party lines, but it had to go through at least one House committee before being sent to the full House of Representatives for a final vote. Padilla said he believes the House would have approved it, and that New Mexicans would have voted for the increased school funding in the November general election.
He said Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, told him they would see to it that his resolution got a hearing. Padilla said he twice waited at Tripp’s parking spot at the Roundhouse to talk to him about the bill.
“I begged,” Padilla said.
Harper said he never promised Padilla anything.
“I did tell him that, if we did hear it, it would be a two-hour debate and we would table it,” Harper said. “We don’t believe in raiding the permanent fund.”
Padilla’s proposal was scheduled for a hearing in Harper’s committee Wednesday morning, but the panel adjourned early and did not take it up.
Harper said Padilla’s bill was one of about eight that did not get heard in one of the last committee hearings of the session.
State Republicans, including Gov. Susana Martinez, have opposed using the state’s various endowments for additional funding for schools or for early childhood programs. They say the endowments must be maintained for generations to come, and that they already help pay for education. About $655 million from the Land Grand Permanent Fund’s investment proceeds went to K-12 schools this year.
But the percentage of those investment revenues allocated for schools is set to decline to 5 percent from 5.5 percent after this year. That led Padilla to sponsor the proposed constitutional amendment.
His measure would have changed the endowment’s allocation for schools to 5.8 percent for 10 years with the provision that, if the permanent fund dropped to $12 billion, the extra draw from the fund would stop. Padilla said Thursday he would have been willing to compromise by keeping the level at 5.5 percent.
“The House turned its back on every single child in the state,” Padilla said.
Padilla wasn’t the only one unhappy with the bill’s death. Charles Goodmacher, a spokesman for the teachers’ union NEA-New Mexico, said, “House Republican leaders missed the opportunity to move forward a solution to the insufficient funding situation, which would not have cost New Mexico taxpayers a penny.”
He said Padilla “stuck his neck out for the benefit of New Mexico students.”
Contact Robert Nott at (505) 986-3021 or [email protected].