A bill by Sen. Mary Kay Papen that would have requested a transfer of federal mineral rights to the state government in order to fund early childhood education was tabled Wednesday morning in the Senate Education Committee at her request.
Senate Bill 182 would have requested that the U.S. Congress transfer sub-surface mineral rights on Bureau of Land Management lands to the state. Those rights would then be managed by the State Land Office, and all revenue generated from unleased federal subsurface mineral rights would go into two new permanent funds devoted to early childhood education.
Papen said the bill was intended as an alternative to legislation that has been introduced to tap into the Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education.
“It is clear to me now, however, that the bill suffers from problems in its construction,” she told committee members Wednesday.
“Furthermore, it seems that this entire approach has little support from the public. I have listened carefully to the public comments on the bill and discussed them with other legislators, Commissioner (Aubrey) Dunn, the staff of the State Land Office and my own staff.”
Conservation groups opposed the bill because it tied education funding to the future extraction of oil, gas and other minerals.
“We thank Sen. Papen for recognizing that we need to embrace creative ways to fund the important need of early childhood education, and are so grateful that she listened to CVNM members and supporters and the public who voiced their opposition to this method of funding,” said Ben Shelton, legislative director for Conservation Voters New Mexico, in a prepared statement. “New Mexicans should take note: their voices make a difference.”
The fiscal impact report on the proposed bill could not estimate how much new revenue it would expect to generate.
“The potential federal rights to be transferred to the state are speculative at this time and the amount of revenue that could come from such rights is unclear,” it said. “Transfer of these federal rights is contingent on congressional action, and legislation to do so has not been introduced.”
The BLM has 9.5 million acres of split estate mineral rights in New Mexico, meaning the federal government owns the subsurface rights on land that is privately owned. The State Land Office has indicated that BLM procedures are hindering leases and revenue generation, but has not said what it would change, according to the legislative analysis.
In tabling the bill, Papen noted a string of depressing statistics. New Mexico is 49th in child well-being and has the highest rate in the nation of children living in poverty, she said. Fifty-nine percent of those 3 and 4 years old are not enrolled in pre-school, more than 70 percent of fourth-grader are not proficient in reading and 41 percent are raised in a single-parent family
“We must, and we will, find better ways to fund these critical priorities for children,” Papen said.
House Joint Resolution 1 would increase funding for early childhood education by increasing the annual distribution from the existing permanent fund. Because it seeks to amend the Constitution, the resolution would have to be approved by voters if it passes the Legislature.