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“We are a rich state that allows half our people to live in poverty,” Las Cruces state Sen. Bill Soules said. “We’re saving money for our grandchildren while our children are going hungry.”
Estimates are New Mexico will have about $3.5 billion in new recurring revenue when the legislature convenes for a 30-day budget session in January. More than 30 percent of the state’s general fund is held in reserve. The state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund (LGPF) is about $28 billion, Soules said. The LGPF, which will distribute about $1.34 billion to New Mexico public schools, universities and other beneficiaries this fiscal year, is one of the largest funds of its kind in the United States, according to the New Mexico State Investment Council.
Soules said his priorities for spending the new money – public education, research and child well being – will have long-term benefits for the state.
Soules, chair of the New Mexico Senate Education Committee, wants to spend about $30 million to upgrade the New Mexico Public Education Department’s information technology system. The old system is “outdated,” he said. “Fix it. Make it work.”
Second, Soules wants the legislature to put $200 million into the state Technology Enhancement Fund so more matching funds are available to New Mexico universities to apply for National Science Foundation grants and other basic and applied research funding.
That could help create a research corridor in New Mexico, making New Mexico State University –and including the University of Texas at El Paso – a science, technology and research hub, Soules said.
The economic impact of an investment that “leverages New Mexico’s brain power” could be huge, he said, and would help stop the “brain drain” that is taking graduates of NMSU and other New Mexico universities out of state to find the best jobs.
“Those brains will stay here,” Soules said.
Soules also wants to create a pilot project that would begin a multi-year investment of about $450,000 million in child development.
“Babies born in New Mexico deserve the best start we can give them,” Soules said.
His idea is to provide $1,500 a month for a 12 to 18 months to families in the state with a pregnancy.
The money could be used for regular pre-natal care, home care visits and other healthcare and behavioral health needs, he said, along with paying rent, buying groceries and providing transportation.
With their financial burden reduced, young families could focus on their baby’s brain development, particularly crucial in the first year of life, Soules said.
The “toxic stress” many New Mexico families endure as they struggle to pay for food, shelter and transportation impacts their young children for the rest of the children’s lives, he said.
“Do we really care about little kids?” Soules said.
The positive impact of this kind of investment is “well documented in other parts of the world,” he said. It’s also been proven effective in the United States, where the $300 per child tax credit families received during Covid significantly reduced child poverty, Soules said. The rate has doubled since the credit ended, he said.
Soules said he would like the pilot project to be income based, but it may have to be available to all qualifying families without regard to income to pass the legislature. About 22,000 babies are born in New Mexico each year, he said.
“All kids are this important to the state,” Soules said.
The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee estimates FY24 (which began July 1 of this year) budget reserves at $4.3 billion, which is more than 50 percent of $11.64 billion in recurring revenue.
Rather than continuing to put money into the state’s budget reserves and tax breaks, “We should spend every single dime of that in the New Mexico economy,” Soules said. “When the money moves, the economy improves.”