Univer­sity chiefs urge state to re­store fund­ing

Gov­er­nor ve­toed higher ed­u­ca­tion money pend­ing spe­cial ses­sion

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY JES­SICA DYER JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

The pres­i­dents of New Mex­ico’s pub­lic univer­si­ties are im­plor­ing Gov. Su­sana Martinez and law­mak­ers to re­store their in­sti­tu­tions’ fund­ing, ar­gu­ing that the fi­nan­cial inse­cu­rity could cost them stu­dents and fac­ulty, and might also jeop­ar­dize their ac­cred­i­ta­tion and hin­der statewide eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

A let­ter sent to Martinez and mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture and signed by the lead­ers at New Mex­ico’s seven pub­lic four-year univer­si­ties ex­presses “deep con­cern” over the gov­er­nor’s veto of all higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing for the fis­cal year that starts July 1. It seeks re­in­state­ment of no less than the $744.8 mil­lion ap­proved by the Leg­is­la­ture — a sum elim­i­nated by the gov­er­nor in what has be­come a messy budget bat­tle.

“The mes­sage the veto sent to our 133,505 reg­is­tered stu­dents and their fam­i­lies, while un­in­tended, leaves them con­fused and won­der­ing whether they should en­roll in a New Mex­ico col­lege, whether they’ll be able to fin­ish their de­gree, or whether they’ll be able to grad­u­ate. While we are try­ing to calm their fears, there is con­cern that many of our state’s bright­est stu­dents will move to other states to pur­sue their higher ed­u­ca­tion,” they wrote.

The Repub­li­can gov­er­nor said ear­lier this week that univer­si­ties would be funded by July 1, and her spokesman, Michael Lonergan, re­it­er­ated that Fri­day.

“We fully ex­pect this sit­u­a­tion to be re­solved,” he said in a writ­ten state­ment, not­ing that the gov­er­nor has be­gun meet­ing with leg­isla­tive lead­ers as they work to­ward a new budget deal that would prompt a spe­cial ses­sion and re­stored higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing.

The Gov­er­nor’s Of­fice calls the de­fund­ing a tem­po­rary mea­sure and part of an ef­fort to get a bal­anced budget with­out the tax in­creases also passed by the Demo­cratic-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture. Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, mean­while, have blasted the de­ci­sion and taken steps to­ward su­ing the gov­er­nor.

The univer­sity pres­i­dents stress in their let­ter that the state pro­vides 50 per­cent to 60 per­cent of their in­struc­tion and gen­eral bud­gets. They say their in­sti­tu­tions “sim­ply can­not ex­ist with­out” that money.

They add that some fac­ulty mem­bers are con­sid­er­ing jobs in places with “more cer­tainty in higher ed­u­ca­tion,” and that the budget ques­tions could jeop­ar­dize their ac­cred­i­ta­tion by the Higher Learn­ing Com­mis­sion, which con­sid­ers cer­tain fi­nan­cial mea­sures.

The let­ter was writ­ten on Coun­cil of Univer­sity Pres­i­dents let­ter­head and signed by Gar­rey Carruthers, New Mex­ico State Univer­sity chancellor; Chaouki Ab­dal­lah, Univer­sity of New Mex­ico act­ing pres­i­dent; Stephen Wells, New Mex­ico In­sti­tute of Min­ing and Tech­nol­ogy pres­i­dent; Joseph Shep­ard, Western New Mex­ico Univer­sity pres­i­dent; Steven Gam­ble, Eastern New Mex­ico Univer­sity pres­i­dent; Sam Min­ner Jr., New Mex­ico High­lands pres­i­dent; and Richard Bai­ley Jr., Northern New Mex­ico Col­lege pres­i­dent.

The coun­cil is an as­so­ci­a­tion of New Mex­ico’s four-year univer­si­ties. The gov­er­nor’s veto also elim­i­nated fund­ing for the state’s two-year col­leges.

In a Jour­nal in­ter­view, Carruthers ex­pressed con­fi­dence that schools will have fund­ing by July 1 but said that not know­ing the amount has com­pli­cated each in­sti­tu­tion’s own budget process. The state re­quires them to sub­mit a budget to the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment by May 1.

Carruthers said the de­part­ment has sug­gested work­ing with the ap­pro­pri­a­tions ap­proved by the Leg­is­la­ture, but there is no guar­an­tee that amount will ma­te­ri­al­ize. And that ap­pro­pri­a­tion is still 1 per­cent smaller than this year’s fund­ing level, which it­self is about 7½ per­cent less than last fis­cal year.

UNM’s Ab­dal­lah was trav­el­ing Fri­day and could not be reached for com­ment. But Craig White, act­ing provost and co-chair­man of UNM’s “budget lead­er­ship team” said it has al­ready worked to­ward a fi­nan­cial plan that as­sumes a fund­ing short­fall. But fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tions are on hold.

Carruthers said Martinez’s un­ex­pected ac­tion has prompted stu­dents to ask him if the school would be open this fall. Carruthers, a Repub­li­can for­mer gov­er­nor, also ques­tioned how peo­ple out­side the state — par­tic­u­larly busi­nesses that might con­sider lo­cat­ing in New Mex­ico — might per­ceive the move.

“What’s the sig­nal we’re sup­posed to get?” he said. “I think when you do things like this you have to un­der­stand that this pic­ture is the pic­ture that’s used (for) the state of New Mex­ico. When some­one’s look­ing to lo­cate a com­pany here and they see this kind of an oc­cur­rence, one would have to won­der about the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and whether this is a place their com­pany might be com­fort­able.”

NMSU Chan­cel­lor Gar­rey Car­ruthers

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