In an informative panel discussion on Thursday, September 22nd the Chamber's board had an opportunity to hear from all sides on the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund. On the panel were Representatives Antonio 'Moe' Maestas (D) and Conrad James (R), Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and former Secretary for the Finance and Administration Department, Dr. Tom Clifford. Rick Alvidrez, Chair of the Chamber's Education Bold Issues Group (BIG) moderated the panel.
The Land Grant Permanent Fund is one of the largest funds of its kind and every year provides more than a half-billion dollars in benefits to New Mexico’s public schools, universities and other beneficiaries ($656 million in FY16).
For the last several years, Representative Maestas has sponsored a constitutional amendment in the House which would increase the distribution of the fund by 1%--the additional dollars would go toward early childhood development. Maestas said that currently, Fund distribution is about 4.6% of the 5% allowable distribution. Maestas said he advocates for putting the additional dollars into early childhood programs that would have the greatest return on investment.
Dr. Tom Clifford said that at the 5% distribution rate, there's a 50/50 chance that the fund will be able to continue that distribution and grow enough to keep up with inflation. Clifford said he would support a gradual roll out of proven programs. "It has to be a top flight program," said Clifford.
Representative James maintained that funding is not the issue and cited New Mexico's per capita education spending. "We need to take a step back and discuss what it is that we're trying to accomplish," he said. He added that we need to have better metrics to understand where our students are, how our teachers are being prepared and make sure that dollars we do spend are being spent efficiently.
Commissioner Dunn added some important insight to the discussion. Currently, he said, all of the LGPF dollars are earmarked to specific beneficiaries and an additional 1% distribution isn't as simple as it sounds. "You can't just take one percent off the top," he said.
But, he provided a possible solution for the funding desires. He said a new beneficiary could be created (early childhood development, for example) and 6.5 million acres of federal minerals which are currently under private land could be taken to fund the new beneficiary.
Commissioner Dunn shared with the board a draft of the bill which would allow this funding proposal to be possible. It says: "This unleased federal subsurface mineral acreage beneath private land within NM, identified as disposal lands by the federal bureau of land management, could be transferred to the state of NM and managed by the state land office to be held in trust for the purpose of raising revenue to specifically support and fund early childhood education..."
Commissioner Dunn said his office already has the manpower to run this program and they have a specific plan to get this through the Legislature. He stressed that passage of this legislation wouldn't cost any additional dollars.
Thank you to Commissioner Dunn, Dr. Tom Clifford, Representatives Antonio Maestas and Conrad James for this informative, thoughtful conversation.
At the meeting, the board also got a brief udpate from Ryan Flynn, the newly appointed Executive Director at the NM Oil and Gas Association and former Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department.
Flynn's remarks stressed the negative perception of the oil and gas industry and the importance in changing that perception. The reality is, he said, that 56% of our energy comes from the oil and gas industry and despite the public's viewpoint that renewable energy is the primary source of energy, he said renewable will not be the main source of energy for at least another 20 years.
"We need to make sure we're addressing the perception issues," he said. "Our extractive industries are here to stay...We are the most important private industry from a budget perspective." One-third of the state's general fund comes from oil and gas production.
Despite public misconception and perspective, Flynn said the good news is that the state’s rig count is rising and more companies are investing in the Permian Basin, a strong player for our state. Thank you Mr. Flynn, for stopping by and updating our board on the oil and gas industry in the state of New Mexico.