Submitted by Sean Wingfield, Social Studies Teacher Albuquerque Charter Academy
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The sponsors of HB 132, which seeks to cap interest rates on certain loans, are admittedly addressing an issue many -including myself- deem worthy of debate. HB 132 seeks to eliminate the revolving door on debt incurred when accessing credit. Fair enough. Good cause, good policy, good politics. Especially the appropriation of $180,000 from the state’s general fund to the Public Education Department to prepare our children for financial know-how and independence. That crucial language made it into the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee only to be gutted prior to a referral to the Judiciary Committee. Imagine the irony of a body of elected officials, selected to protect and promote financial/credit consumers, striking funding to educate our children on how to navigate 21st-century financing? This is after the sponsor and others railed against a system that purportedly issues loans to New Mexicans that often don’t understand secured vs unsecured loans, compound interest, or APRs. So why the decision to remove the appropriation? Perhaps the reason lies somewhere near the fact that the Governor wasn’t originally inclined to message HB 132. Arguably because she believes feel-good legislation is the political manifestation of low-hanging fruit. And for HB 132 to become germane in a budget session, the appropriation was necessary. Perhaps the Governor had it right. Perhaps steadier heads wanted further collaboration between consumers, regulators and sponsors.
When the states ratified the 18th amendment prohibiting the manufacturing, sale, and consumption of alcohol congress needed the Volstead Act to enforce it. For HB 132 to truly be transformative and lasting, it needs educational funding. I would argue that the voluntary legislature of New Mexico would better serve their constituencies by adding back the appropriation and sending a message that HB 132 is not just “feel good” legislation but rather a serious vehicle for financial education. I purposely used the term “voluntary” to extenuate the fact that a large majority of our elected officials debating this bill have the financial independence to retire from their day jobs and board meetings and adjourn to picturesque Santa Fe for months at a time without concerning themselves with utility bills, medical expenses or groceries.
I want to be clear, I am not arguing the intent of HB 132 isn’t above board. I’m just concerned that without the educational tools provided by the appropriation the next generation of New Mexicans who are categorized as “minority” or “underserved” will re-live their parents’ cycle of debt. Perhaps for no other reason than they never knew anything else, or never were told that they could make finances and credit work for them – instead of against them. That financial literacy is available to them. I hope they would question your successors – not on the intent of HB 132 – but on the utter failure to arm it with tools that could have changed their lives. As the educator of 18-24yr olds at the Albuquerque Charter Academy downtown I am acutely aware of the tremendous benefit the $180,000 appropriation would have with my efforts to expand financial literacy. To every senator who will debate this issue please do all you can to put back in place the money to further financial competency among my students.