Gov. Susana Martinez officially called the state Legislature into a special session beginning at noon on May 24 to draw up a spending spending plan for the coming fiscal year, among other issues. The special legislative session is set to occur roughly one week after the state Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case from the state Legislature challenging several of Martinez’s line-item vetoes on the budget passed earlier this year during the general session. Martinez’s actions included vetoes of the entire budgets for higher education and the state Legislature. Note: This is a breaking news story and more information may be added. In the proclamation, Martinez says there is “an essential and immediate need to enact a more responsible budget for the New Mexico higher education institutions and the legislative agencies that are provided for in state statute to assist New Mexico’s voluntary legislature for Fiscal Year 2018.”
The New Mexico Legislature filed a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez Friday morning. The suit accuses Martinez of violating the state constitution when she vetoed the entirety of the budgets for the state Legislature and all higher education in New Mexico. Filed by the Legislative Council’s lawyer Tom Hnasko, the lawsuit calls the line-item veto of legislative funding an “attempt to eviscerate the ability of the other branch [of government] to perform its essential functions.”
In his filing, Hnsako asks the court to invalidate Martinez’s line-item vetoes of both the Legislature and higher education. “They’re suing the Governor because they want to raise taxes, and she’s the only one standing in their way,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in a statement. “It’s disappointing because it shows a refusal to compromise as this is nothing but an attempt to bully her by short-circuiting the legislative process before a special session.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of the entire higher education budget is getting national attention. First, the Washington Post covered the veto earlier this week. Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education weighed in with a story. Martinez has said the veto was necessary to balance the budget, even as she says the budget—including higher education funding—will be addressed in an upcoming special session. The Washington Post analysis said the veto meant “nothing good” for students, adding the impasse could lead to “significant tuition increases at public universities.”
The newspaper cited a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that found, when adjusted for inflation, higher education funding in New Mexico dropped by 32.2 percent since the Great Recession, the third-largest such drop in the nation.
Even the woman in charge of higher education in New Mexico didn’t have input on the governor’s veto of the entire higher education budget. Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron said Gov. Susana Martinez did not consult with her before making the vetoes, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Damron made the remarks in a speech to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque this week. The governor vetoed the entire higher education budget, saying it was necessary to balance the budget, which became unbalanced when she vetoed a package that would have raised some taxes and fees. Martinez said the higher education budget could be solved in a special session.
Some professors, students and advocates at the state’s flagship university are warning proposed sweeping changes to the state’s higher education system could undermine academic freedom and programs like ethnic studies. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs would scale back the number of required credit hours students take in public university “general education core” classes and establish “meta-majors.”
“Meta-major” classes are defined in the bill as “lower division courses” that are set by the department and include general education courses and prerequisite courses. At a Senate Education Committee hearing last week, Kernan said her bill’s purpose is to make it easier for students who transfer to different universities to use the credits they’ve already earned from previous courses toward their college degrees. Kernan’s bill is supported by New Mexico Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron. At last week’s hearing, Damron described meta-majors as a group of courses set under a list of broad subjects that undecided college students can choose from to create a path toward their eventual major.
Twelve state attorneys general have asked the federal Department of Education to revoke the recognition of the much-criticized Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. If ACICS loses recognition, the many for-profit schools that it accredits could be cut off from the federal student aid that makes up the majority of their income. The letter cited reporting from ProPublica that found that students at schools accredited by ACICS were worse off than students at other schools. At a typical ACICS-accredited college, only 35 percent of students graduate, the lowest rate of any accreditor. The national graduation rate is around 59 percent.
According to a recent report, New Mexico has one of the largest cuts to higher education funding in the nation. The report from the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at inflation-adjusted funding for higher education since the recession. The report found that the funding in New Mexico has dropped 32.2 percent since 2008, when adjusted for inflation. This works out to more than $4,300 per student. Only three states, Alaska, Wyoming and North Dakota, have seen higher education funding increase since 2008.