You can't cut your way to success in anything, and certainly not in education. During their lobby day on March 11, AFT New Mexico members had a few things to tell their lawmakers about the four years of budget-cutting and lost public services already behind them, plus several strong solutions to help the state regain its footing in education.
First, the AFT activists advised their legislators on what not to do. The proposed state budget, H.B. 2, is a scorched-earth approach that would cut tens of millions more dollars in pre-K through higher education programs—turning away 5,000 children from early childhood education and laying off school nurses, librarians and others whom working families depend on.
Cuts certainly aren't the only way to deal with the budget crisis, so members of AFT New Mexico are looking at all possible revenue streams and asking Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislature to take the following practical steps to close the budget gap and strengthen the state's education system.
As their main proposal, the union members are asking elected officials to act on Senate Joint Resolution 10, a constitutional amendment to be put before voters in 2012. This change to the New Mexico constitution would increase the payout from the state's $10 billion permanent school fund to help sustain education. New Mexico already pays for a fraction of its education programs through this fund, which generates revenue from land and natural resources, and also from income earned on its investments.
Under S.J.R. 10, a mere 7 percent of the interest generated by the fund would go to help provide high-quality education in preschools, K-12 schools, colleges and universities. The permanent fund would continue to grow, its principal untouched, and this new funding stream would relieve pressure on the state's general fund. Even in tough economic times, the permanent school fund grew by $1.4 billion in the second half of 2010.
If voters approve the measure next year, it would mean more money for education without increasing taxes. Plus, for the first time, funds would be directed to early childhood education. Right now, less than 1 percent of the state's budget is invested in early childhood education and child care.
Also under the plan offered by AFT New Mexico, legislators would close out-of-state corporate tax loopholes. New Mexico is one of the few states that do not require chain stores like Wal-Mart, Lowe's, Target, Home Depot and Starbucks to pay state income taxes on in-state profits. Another way to fund New Mexico's schools adequately would be to reinstate the 8 percent tax rate on the state's wealthiest residents.
AFT New Mexico has joined a coalition called Keep the Promise for New Mexico's Future, made up of parents, community groups, small businesses and others who believe children are worth investing in. For details, go to the Keep the Promise for New Mexico website. More information also is available on the AFT website. [Annette Licitra, AFT New Mexico, photos by Kathy De La Torre/InSight Foto]
March 15, 2011