New Mexico State Land Commissioner Ray Powell is proposing a sustainable solution to generate more money for education while creating jobs and without putting the Land Grant Permanent Fund at risk.
“The solution is to grow the pie, rather than slice it into smaller pieces. I believe the answer is to generate additional revenue and earmark the money specifically for early childhood education and other important educational needs,” Powell said.
According to a press release issued last week, his proposal that Powell calls a “win-win-win” could be accomplished by having the state acquire a small percentage of federal lands that are designated as “disposal lands,” or lands that no longer fit the mission of the Bureau of Land Management.
“Often these federal ‘disposal lands’ are located around growing urban areas. Some are located in prime areas for building a solar array or a wind farm. Such lands are a perfect fit for the New Mexico State Land Office, whose mission is to earn money from commercial development, renewable energy, grazing, rights of ways, and oil, gas and mineral extraction. Acquiring these lands would create jobs for New Mexicans and earn as much as $60 million a year for education,” Powell said.
“These lands have gone through an exhaustive public review process and have been determined to be unsuitable for recreational access, conservation, or preservation,” said Assistant Commissioner of Communications Karin Stangl.
“As New Mexico’s state land commissioner, I administer the State Land Office, which earns revenue from land that was granted to New Mexico by the federal government when we became a state. This revenue earned by the Land Office, which amounted to $577 million last year, goes to support public schools, universities, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Visually Impaired, Carrie Tingley Hospital as well as other important State Land Trust beneficiaries. These revenues currently provide 25 percent of the operating budget of our public schools which saves the average New Mexico household $800 a year, money that each taxpayer otherwise would pay,” Powell said.
According to the report, recent legislative sessions have included contentious debate about increasing the amount of money spent on education from the Land Grant Permanent Fund. A growing controversy has those who champion funding for early childhood education and other important educational programs pitted against those who believe that risking the Land Grant Permanent fund is not the way to best accomplish this goal.
“The solution I am proposing actually could become a reality faster than dipping into the Permanent Fund since it would only require federal and state legislative approvals. Seeking approval for existing Permanent Fund money for early childhood education would take an act of Congress as well as a state constitutional amendment that would then have to go before voters,” he said.
“Rather than asking the federal government each year for more dollars to support public education, let’s become self sustaining. Let’s help ourselves instead of being dependent on uncertain federal support. Let’s involve our citizens, state legislators, congressional delegation, and our governor to begin a collaborative dialogue now to acquire more land for New Mexico so there will be a permanent revenue source for early childhood education and other important educational needs for future generations of New Mexicans.”
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