SANTA FE – With the end of the session approaching, congressional approval of New Mexico’s voter-backed plan to tap more heavily into the permanent school fund is hanging in the balance.
Congress could leave Washington as soon as Dec. 23.
Sen. Martin Heinrich and two other members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation urged outgoing Rep. Yvette Herrell on Friday to help secure final passage of the plan before adjournment.
Heinrich, and Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Teresa Leger Fernández – all Democrats – accused Republicans in the U.S. House of delaying federal action that would respect the will of New Mexico voters and grant approval to the education measure.
In a joint statement, they urged Herrell, a Republican, to help get the measure passed.
“New Mexicans have delivered a clear mandate at the ballot box to invest in our kids and their education,” Heinrich, Stansbury and Leger Fernández said.
At stake is authorization this year of a constitutional amendment that would boost the annual withdrawals from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to generate new funding for early childhood education and public schools.
It passed with 70% support in the Nov. 8 general election.
But congressional authorization is required before New Mexico can fully tap into the extra funds, estimated to total $236 million in the next fiscal year.
As a state legislator in 2018, Herrell opposed the permanent fund proposal. The Journal was unable to reach her or a spokesperson Friday for comment.
Supporters of the measure are pushing for Congress to add a one-sentence approval of the permanent fund changes to an end-of-the year spending bill expected to be adopted in the final days of this year’s congressional session.
A new Congress – reflecting the outcome of the 2022 general election – is set to take office Jan. 3.
Failure to approve the New Mexico legislation before then would not necessarily be fatal. But supporters would have to start over in the new session, delaying consideration of the measure.
Legislation authorizing New Mexico’s permanent fund changes was introduced a year ago by Heinrich and Stansbury, and it cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with unanimous, bipartisan support.
In their joint statement, the three Democrats urged “Herrell to help pass legislation concurring with Constitutional Amendment One and following the will of the people of New Mexico. The future of our state depends on it.”
Herrell lost her reelection bid this year in a newly drawn congressional district.
“This isn’t a partisan issue – these programs are proven to provide big benefits for kids, families and the economy alike,” said Amber Wallin, executive director, New Mexico Voices for Children, an advocacy group.