The fossil fuel industry has been a mainstay for New Mexico's education funding, but the state should seek more stable and reliable revenue streams as the industry grapples with market fluctuations and a global push toward green energy, a coalition of children's advocates wrote in a letter Monday.
In the letter, 16 education, community and conservation groups ask the governor and state lawmakers to establish new revenue sources for schools, so New Mexico isn't overly dependent on oil-and-gas dollars in a market that can be volatile and with an industry facing a sweeping energy transition to combat climate change.
"We don't want to sound like ungrateful recipients of oil-and-gas revenues," said Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of NEA-New Mexico, one of the groups that signed the letter. "We're not ungrateful. It's just that we have to be smart about now and leaning forward in the future. We need to have a stable source of income for the public schools."
Some of the other groups entreating state leaders to create new funding sources include Climate Innovation Challenge, Dual Language Education New Mexico, Learning Action Buffet, New Mexico Climate Justice, New Mexico Public Health Association and New Mexico Voices for Children.
Reversing past legislation that gave corporations and wealthier New Mexicans tax breaks would be one way to generate more funding for education, Parr-Sanchez said.
In the letter, the coalition said the fossil fuel industry is in a long-term decline and state revenue will decline accordingly unless action is taken.
The groups expressed thanks to state leaders for putting a measure before voters next year that, if approved, would boost funds for early childhood services and K-12 public schools. The state would be allowed to draw more from the $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund.
"While these steps are positive, we are concerned that they are not sufficient to maintain, much less improve, our system of public education," the letter states. "Recent education funding gains must be secured with stable revenue streams that are not dependent on the whims of international oil markets."
In an email, the governor's spokeswoman wrote that the state has worked to diversify the economy, including with green energy, to create new revenue streams since Michelle Lujan Grisham took office.
Investment has been made and partnerships formed across many sectors, such as renewable energy, aerospace, manufacturing, the film industry, agriculture, cybersecurity, biosciences and outdoor recreation, spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett wrote.
"Not to mention this year's monumental success in legalizing recreational adult-use cannabis, which promises to create thousands of jobs in communities across the state and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in both state and local revenue," Sackett wrote.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic causing a sharp cutback in travel and business activity, the fossil fuel industry injected $1.37 billion into the state's education coffers in 2020, slightly more than the $1.36 million in booming 2019, according to New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
"We support efforts to expand and increase the economic opportunities available to all New Mexicans, as many of our neighboring states have done alongside a strong oil and natural gas sector," Robert McEntyre, the association's spokesman, wrote in an email. "We’re committed to doing our part to see that New Mexico’s kids have the opportunities to be successful in the classroom and beyond."
Contrary to the decline that many educators foresee, McEntyre said the industry is poised to grow as long as state and federal leaders create policies that foster oil-and-gas resources domestically instead of outsourcing them abroad.
At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich has introduced a bill that would replace lost fossil fuel revenue for states and local governments as the country transitions to green energy.
The bill sets a baseline for mineral revenue based on the historic average of this income declining 5 percent a year. If mineral payments to state, counties and tribes fall below that amount in a given year, an "energy transition payment" would be dispensed to fill the gap.
Parr-Sanchez said the long-term outlook for fossil fuel is diminishing returns for all concerned, which is why diversifying revenue is vital.
"Even oil companies are pursuing green energy strategies because they also see the wave of the future," she said.