Proposed cuts to higher education spending in New Mexico could jeopardize some research funding for state universities and lead to a hiring freeze at Santa Fe Community College, advocates say. Universities and colleges in New Mexico are denouncing proposed cuts to higher education spending as lawmakers trim budgets across state government to fill a $2.4 billion budget hole wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and a devastated oil and gas market. A draft House bill seeking to blend recommendations from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and an influential budget committee would slash roughly 6 percent from research and public service projects at universities and 4 percent for broader university and public college funding from the state. That would represent the steepest reductions for any state-funded department or agency eyeing potential cuts as lawmakers address the budget shortfall. The Legislature is still debating the proposed cuts.
Next month, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales may face the biggest test of his mayoral career so far as voters decide whether or not to approve a tax increase on sugary beverages that he’s championed. The idea is to tax sugary beverages 2 cents per ounce. That money will pay for 1,000 spots in existing pre-kindergarten education facilities around the city for children of low-income families. Matt Ross, a spokesman with the mayor’s office, said that the city doesn’t need to use the additional revenue to create a public early childhood education program because of existing private and nonprofit preschools in Santa Fe. “The capacity is there, there’s just a lack of affordability,” Ross said in an interview.
Ana Ochoa, a freshman studying business administration and accounting at the Santa Fe Community College, is one of thousands of students across New Mexico who depend on the state’s Lottery Scholarship Fund to help pay for school. But she worries about the fund’s dwindling fortunes. She’s not alone. Over the past few years, demand has outpaced supply for the money, and students who once had 100 percent of their tuition paid by the fund have seen that share shrink to 95 percent, and then 90 percent. The share would have sunk even lower if lawmakers had not decided to pull money two years ago from the state’s general fund and alcohol excise tax revenues to supplement the scholarship fund two years ago.
A state House committee on Friday tabled two pieces of legislation aimed at stopping public school superintendents, college presidents and university coaches from getting what some lawmakers referred to as a “golden parachute” when their contracts are terminated early. The House Education Committee action effectively killed both bills, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque. The decisions came on bipartisan votes, with some lawmakers and members of the education community arguing that the measures would hinder the ability of school districts and colleges to recruit high-quality candidates for top jobs. Much of the discussion Friday centered on recent controversy involving Robert Frank, the former president of The University of New Mexico who agreed to step down in December under a deal with the board of regents that allows him to continue collecting his annual salary of $350,000 through May. Under the agreement, Frank can continue working at UNM in a $190,000-a-year tenured position.
Early Friday morning, Lucas Jimenez sat on a concrete slab outside Santa Fe Community College, waiting to rally behind his presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, the senator who has ridden a populist wave railing against big banks and the “corrupt” campaign finance system, and picking up 40 percent of Democratic delegates in the process (so far). Jiminez wore a gray t-shirt emblazoned with the now-famous image of Sanders as a young civil rights activist in 1963, getting dragged away by Chicago police. It’s not unusual for Jimenez, 24, to be on campus at 8 am. He studies here full-time, working towards an associate’s degree in welding. Jimenez says his t-shirt symbolizes Sanders’ authenticity—“That he isn’t just talk.