Doña Ana County schools could lose millions of dollars of Spaceport revenue

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Schools in Doña Ana County could lose millions of dollars of Spaceport revenue if a state legislator's plan to reclassify the Spaceport tax is approved.

Since 2007 the Spaceport gross receipts tax has given a percentage of money to the school districts in Doña Ana County. That was a major reason why the tax was approved in the first place.

The money is currently classified as a grant, but state representative Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup) says it should be classified as a tax. If it was the money would be distributed equally among school districts across New Mexico.

That's because state law aims to make up for the fact that tax revenues in larger urban areas are most likely greater than those in isolated rural areas.

Just a few weeks ago school districts in the county updated the board of county commissioners on how they've been spending the money.

Districts are using the money to hire new teachers, buy new technology for classrooms and give students more opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Las Cruces Public Schools district has received nearly $4 million since the 2009-2010 school year. If the tax money was reclassified, the district would lose nearly $1 million every year.

Lundstrom wrote a letter to Hanna Skandera, the state secretary-designate of education. Lundstrom wrote in part, "As a state legislator representing school districts located on tribal lands, I am concerned that the gross receipts taxes approved by voters for the Spaceport are not being counted as locally generated revenue and thereby contribute to a disequalization of our state's public school funding formula."

Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Stan Rounds does not believe the tax falls under that state law.

"The voters went to the polls to especially set this sales tax to do two things: one, to bring the Spaceport in and help pay for it, and then carve out a small portion of those dollars to go to schools in the area to provide for workforce development for that special purpose," Rounds told ABC-7.

Lundstrom asked for Skandera's opinion on the matter. Lundstrom plans on introducing a bill that would require all local tax revenues to fall under the equalization law.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports members of the state Finance Authority Oversight Committee approved Lundstrom's proposal on Monday. The bill still needs to be approved by Gov. Susana Martinez to be heard in the upcoming legislative session. Then it would need to be passed by the legislature.

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