New Mexico In Depth reporter Bella Davis joined Executive Director Trip Jennings and Managing Editor Marjorie Childress on Tuesday for a chat about the 2024 legislative session, which ended Feb. 15.
Childress began by reminding everyone that all bills passed by the Legislature are still subject to vetoes from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Jennings added that the $10.2 billion dollar state budget and $1 billion dollar capital outlay legislation are subject to line item vetoes. That’s because they appropriate money and the state constitution gives a governor the power to eliminate words, passages and individual appropriations in any bill that spends state money.
The audience asked what New Mexico In Depth was least happy about coming out of the session. “I’m upset that I don’t know more about how much money lobbyists spend on lawmakers,” Jennings said.
The sponsor of a proposal to create a trust fund that would’ve given tribes in New Mexico millions of dollars to build education programs said Wednesday that he is pulling the bill from the Senate, meaning it is effectively dead.
With less than 24 hours in the 2024 legislative session, Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat from Sandia Pueblo, says he decided to pull House Bill 134 after learning a number of amendments were going to be introduced on the Senate floor.
The proposal would have created a trust fund with a $50 million appropriation, generating interest for the 23 tribes in New Mexico to spend on language programs and other needs related to education. It garnered bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, and a number of tribal leaders, Indigenous students, and educators spoke about how impactful it would be at committee hearings throughout the legislative session. But how the money would be distributed was the source of significant debate this year — and in the 2023 legislative session, when Lente unsuccessfully pushed for the fund. The Navajo Nation in particular had concerns about how to ensure the funds were distributed equitably.
“As much as I thought that we were good to go and how it’s received so much support through the House process and even through Senate Finance,” Lente said, “we’ve come to a point where the discussion amongst tribes is a bit too great for me to want to comfortably have that discussion publicly in the Senate and I don’t think it’s fair for tribes to be put in that position.”Lente would not say where the Senate amendments came from and what they would do. But he said he’s asked Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth to not pull it up for debate in the Senate “out of respect for the tribes.”
“I want to make sure that I respect 100% the tribal sovereignty of each pueblo, nation and tribe in New Mexico.
As New Mexico lawmakers decide how to prioritize spending during another year of historic revenue, Pueblo leaders say they “do not appreciate” being forced to choose between a tribal education trust fund and money for infrastructure on tribal lands.
A letter Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sent late last week asking for their input on funding priorities put them in that position, they told her in a letter Wednesday. Having to pick one or the other is “fundamentally wrong and adverse to the commitments of partnership that we have made with you and state legislative leadership,” wrote the All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents 19 Pueblos in New Mexico and one in Texas.
Instead, each initiative should be funded at $50 million, the council wrote.
In response to questions from New Mexico In Depth on Thursday, the governor’s office provided the letter from the council and said the governor will work with the Legislature to deliver on the council’s request.
It’s the first indication that Lujan Grisham will back the trust fund proposal, which would give tribes more money and control over how they educate their own children.
But it’s not a total win.
Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, stands in his office at the Roundhouse on Jan. 25, 2023. Lente, chair of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, is sponsoring a proposal designed to give tribes more money and control over the education of Indigenous children. Credit: Bella Davis/New Mexico In Depth
The fund’s sponsor, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, is seeking a $100 million trust fund, rather than $50 million.
The House Budget includes $50 million, following the Legislative Finance Committee’s recommendation before the legislative session began.
A proposal to create a trust fund that would give tribes in New Mexico more money and control to run their own education programs is back for the 2024 legislative session. Supporters are optimistic about their chances this year after last year’s unsuccessful attempt to include it in the state budget.There are reasons for optimism.Tucked into the Legislature’s proposed $10.1 billion budget is $50 million for the new fund. Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat from Sandia Pueblo, says top lawmakers have assured him the fund will get another $50 million, for $100 million total, during the 30-day session.The question is whether Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will go along.
If the $100 million request navigates the sometimes-perilous budgeting process successfully, tribes would use annual interest earned on the fund for language revitalization efforts and career readiness programs, among other needs.
“What we want in tribal communities is for our elders, our own people to teach our children about what’s important to our communities,” Lente told New Mexico In Depth. “We need to be fluent in our language. We need to know how our government works.