Leg­is­la­ture heats up

UNM sports cuts, changes to char­ter school fund­ing draw fire

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOYD JOUR­NAL CAPI­TOL BUREAU

SANTA FE — Univer­sity of New Mex­ico lead­ers faced pointed ques­tions from mem­bers of a key House bud­get-writ­ing com­mit­tee on Satur­day, as the de­bate over elim­i­nat­ing men’s soccer and three other UNM sports shifted to the state Capi­tol.

Dur­ing a nearly five-hour hear­ing at the Round­house, some law­mak­ers of­fered blunt cri­tiques of UNM’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

“Why are we pun­ish­ing the pro­grams that have ac­tu­ally been suc­cess­ful?” asked Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Al­bu­querque, who de­scribed the UNM foot­ball pro­gram as a “money pit” that should have had its bud­get more closely scru­ti­nized.

In re­sponse, UNM Pres­i­dent Gar­nett Stokes and Ath­let­ics Di­rec­tor Ed­die Nuñez said the Lobo foot­ball team gen­er­ates a hefty share of the UNM Ath­let­ics De­part­ment bud­get and said mem­ber­ship in the Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence is con­tin­gent on field­ing teams in foot­ball and sev­eral other sports.

“From a mem­ber­ship in the Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence (per­spec­tive), foot­ball was never go­ing to be part of cut­ting our bud­get,” said Stokes, who said more than 85 per­cent of the rev­enue the school gets from the con­fer­ence comes from foot­ball.

The de­bate came as law­mak­ers are con­sid­er­ing a bill that would ap­pro­pri­ate $2 mil­lion to

the UNM Board of Re­gents for re­in­state­ment of the men’s and women’s ski­ing teams, beach vol­ley­ball and men’s soccer pro­grams — all of which are due to be cut this sum­mer.

The leg­is­la­tion, which was not voted on Satur­day, would also re­quire UNM to pro­vide a yearly re­port to law­mak­ers about the Ath­let­ics De­part­ment’s travel ex­penses, salaries and con­tracts.

House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions and Fi­nance Com­mit­tee Chair­woman Pa­tri­cia Lund­strom, D-Gallup, said after Satur­day’s hear­ing the mea­sure will likely not be voted upon un­til the panel moves for­ward with a state bud­get bill for the com­ing fis­cal year.

Be­fore that hap­pens, the bill will likely be amended to in­clude ap­pro­pri­a­tions and bud­get lan­guage for other New Mex­ico uni­ver­si­ties, she said.

UNM of­fi­cials have made it clear they did not ask for the bill and have not re­quested state money to re­in­state the sports.

A univer­sity anal­y­sis of the leg­is­la­tion found it would cre­ate a $4 mil­lion re­cur­ring bud­get deficit for UNM by 2022. And that fig­ures does not in­clude pos­si­ble costs to com­ply with fed­eral gen­der re­quire­ments for univer­sity ath­letic pro­grams.

The univer­sity has cited a May 2018 re­port that it was not Ti­tle IX com­pli­ant — along with a mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar deficit — as the driv­ing force be­hind the de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate sports.

How­ever, UNM’s Ath­let­ics De­part­ment has al­ready asked for more than $4.1mil­lion in state fund­ing for the com­ing fis­cal year — a 57 per­cent in­crease over its cur­rent $2.6 mil­lion in state dol­lars.

That fund­ing in­crease would go to­ward team travel and re­cruit­ing, fa­cil­i­ties im­prove­ments and more, Stokes said.

In ad­di­tion to state dol­lars, UNM’s to­tal ath­let­ics bud­get of $32.9 mil­lion is also funded by ticket sales, stu­dent fees and fundrais­ing ef­forts, ac­cord­ing to Leg­isla­tive Fi­nance Com­mit­tee data.

Dur­ing Satur­day’s hear­ing, Lund­strom ques­tioned UNM lead­ers about why they re­buffed her at­tempts to par­tic­i­pate in the sports de­bate be­fore the univer­sity’s Board of Re­gents took a fi­nal vote.

“I am (House) ap­pro­pri­a­tions chair­woman, for good­ness sake,” she said. “If it’s about need­ing re­sources, wouldn’t I be the ap­pro­pri­ate one to work with?”

Stokes re­sponded by say­ing she would have felt un­com­fort­able pri­or­i­tiz­ing the amount of fund­ing it would take to main­tain the sports, given other univer­sity bud­get con­straints.

“I couldn’t work this deal out with you with­out truly alien­at­ing” fac­ulty mem­bers, Stokes said.

Fol­low­ing the hear­ing, Lund­strom told the Jour­nal there is a lack of trust among many leg­is­la­tors when it comes to UNM ath­let­ics fund­ing.

She and other law­mak­ers also cited re­cent charges of fraud, money laun­der­ing and more that were filed against for­mer UNM Ath­let­ics Di­rec­tor Paul Krebs by the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice in con­nec­tion with a golf jun­ket to Scot­land.

The crim­i­nal charges are a “black eye” for UNM, said Lund­strom, who added: “There’s not trans­parency. I don’t know if it’s in­ten­tional or if it’s just the way the in­for­ma­tion is pre­sented.”

Team mem­bers of the UNM soccer and ski­ing pro­grams also at­tended Satur­day’s hear­ing, with some of them wait­ing hours to tes­tify.

In other Round­house ac­tion Satur­day, the House Com­merce and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee voted 6-2 to ap­prove a pro­posal to take more money from New Mex­ico’s largest per­ma­nent fund for home vis­it­ing and other early child­hood pro­grams.

That mea­sure, House Joint Res­o­lu­tion 1, now ad­vances to the full House for con­sid­er­a­tion.

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