Last winter, snows didn’t come to the mountains, and the headwaters of the Rio Grande suffered from drought. In April, the river—New Mexico’s largest—was already drying south of Socorro. And over the summer, reservoir levels plummeted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court battle between Texas, New Mexico and the U.S. government over the waters of the Rio Grande marches onward. At a meeting at the end of August, the special master assigned to the case by the Supreme Court set some new deadlines: The discovery period will close in the summer of 2020 and the case will go to trial no later than that fall.
The president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate on Wednesday called for the resignation of the five regents of New Mexico State University, saying they had arbitrarily stripped powers from Chancellor Garrey Carruthers. The regents voted Monday to prohibit Carruthers from hiring and firing people in executive or coaching positions at the main campus in Las Cruces and on NMSU’s branch campuses. This triggered a strong response from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces. She stated in a letter of complaint to the regents that they had inappropriately and perhaps unlawfully delegated their responsibilities to one person while taking away authority from Carruthers. Papen’s reference was to regents board Chairwoman Debra Hicks, who was empowered by the rest of the board to make interim appointments.
State law requires the New Mexico Lottery to allocate 30 percent of its gross revenues for college scholarships, a program that helped defray expenses for some 26,000 students last year. So effective was this system that it funneled more than $40 million annually to the scholarship program for nine consecutive years, helping many students obtain a college degree without the crushing debt that can come with loans. But lottery revenues dipped in 2017, a fact that figures heavily in another attempt to change the law. A Republican lawmaker has revived an annual bill to eliminate the requirement of pledging 30 percent of gross lottery revenues to college scholarships. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith of Sandia Park, proposes that at least $38 million in net revenue go to the scholarship program.
In 2013, Garrey Carruthers was named President of New Mexico State University. He was not my first choice, and I expressed my opposition to his hiring publicly. Boy, was I ever wrong. Since the beginning of his tenure Carruthers has lead NMSU through extremely tough times. State budget cuts created lower funding levels, and the decision of NMSU’s Regents not to raise tuition led to hard choices.
The latest New Mexico revenue projections appear to be convincing economists and state officials there is enough money to finance state government through June without resorting to government furloughs. “Based on the projections we see, yes, I think there are adequate funds,” Deputy state Treasurer Sam Collins told NM Political Report. New Mexico State University economics professor Jim Peach recently gave the Santa Fe New Mexican a similar answer. But Gov. Susana Martinez, who has been threatening furloughs for a month, had a different take. Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan warned that the state still may not have enough cash on hand to avoid furloughs and is calling on the state Legislature to fix this in a special session.
State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.
The superintendent of a small school district in Southern New Mexico told state lawmakers in no uncertain terms Tuesday how a 5 percent or 6 percent cut in his operating budget would affect his district. “Our teachers work very hard to put hope in front of those kids,” Ricky Williams, superintendent of Hagerman Municipal Schools, told members of the Senate Finance Committee. “With budget cuts, you take that hope away.” Williams was one of several district leaders and college presidents who put a human face on the realities of education funding cuts during a three-hour hearing at the state Capitol, which attracted about 150 people — many of them educators. Garrey Carruthers, president of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, told the committee that colleges and universities may have to hike tuition rates by up to 30 percent to offset budget reductions.
At least three four-year universities in New Mexico are telling international students affected by President Trump’s controversial executive order affecting immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries to not leave the United States. The University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology formally instructed international students from any of the seven countries to not travel outside the U.S. in the near future. Trump’s executive order temporarily bars those from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country. “Citizens of those countries, who wish to return to the US, should not plan to travel abroad at this time,” UNM wrote in a news release Monday. In his weekly letter to students and faculty, UNM Acting President Chaouki Abdallah noted that Trump’s order affects “more than 100 individuals in the UNM community.”
On Sunday, NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers made a similar call to his students.
While state lawmakers continue to slash budgets, unemployment remains high, and more uncertainty than ever surrounds federal government policies, economists said Tuesday that New Mexico’s economy has stabilized and will see an uptick in growth in the coming year. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, economists from the state’s two largest universities said higher energy prices are helping boost growth, and that means higher employment and income levels throughout New Mexico by 2018. Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said that when he spoke to lawmakers a year ago, the price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude had slumped to $26.60. That benchmark as of Tuesday had climbed to almost $53. “I remember sitting here a year ago and we watched it go to $26.60,” Mitchell said.
Two experts gave a presentation of a grim scenario about oil and gas prices on Wednesday afternoon. The two spoke to the Senate Finance Committee, which plays a key role in crafting the annual state budget. Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research and Dr. Jim Peach, Professor of Economics at New Mexico State University outlined the problems—with few solutions—that New Mexico faces in the wake of tumbling oil prices. Mitchell’s outlook, which was slightly better than Peach’s, was that while the state is still reeling from low oil prices, the employment impact of low oil prices should wear off by 2016. Mitchell added that lower gas prices also means more savings for consumers at the pump, which generally leads to more money spent on goods and services throughout the state.