For higher education, the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) hearing in December is the biggest and most important of the interim season.  This is when institutions outline their legislative requests and when legislators work hard to deflate campus expectations.

Yesterday, the committee heard revised revenue estimates that were half of what had been anticipated just three months previous. Institutional leaders acknowledged the impending budget crunch but wanted legislators to also hear higher education’s needs so informed spending decisions could be made come the session.

New Mexico Tech President Dan Lopez outlined the priorities of the four-year sector. For recurring funding, a major need is compensation, which Lopez termed a real challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining faculty. The four-year sector is asking for a three percent compensation increase as well as full formula funding without carving too much out of the existing base for performance redistribution. Note that to date, HED is still requesting that $12 million in new money be put in the formula.

One-time funding requests include $20 million for infrastructure and deferred maintenance and $20 million for the higher education endowment fund, as well as money for statewide Banner upgrades and training and joint library purchases.

Under miscellaneous issues, the institutions want authorization for lottery scholarship funding to be used for summer school. They also want lawmakers to approve a “state authorization reciprocity agreement” which will streamline reporting and save money for institutions offering online courses across state lines.

For their part, legislators want institutions to help create more jobs to accommodate all of their new graduates (giving UNM President Frank the opening to talk about Innovate ABQ and other entrepreneurial endeavors). They also want firmer assurances that the funding formula will treat smaller institutions equitably. 

The School of Medicine does not fall under the formula so it has its own separate I&G funding priorities. Top among these, says HSC Chancellor Paul Roth, is compensation so the SOM faculty can begin to play catchup with their peers. With $4.8 million, SOM faculty could reach a point midway between the 25th and 50th percentile.

HSC also requests continued support for graduate medical education and new funding requests for the Center for Childhood Maltreatment and expansion of the UNM Pain Center.

Legislators asked about uncompensated care (currently $150 - $160 million), the mil levy votes for UNM Hospital and Sandoval Regional Medical (set for 2016) and how to attract physicians to poor rural areas. There’s no good answer, said Roth, though loan forgiveness and housing are possibilities.

Capital outlay comes up on Friday.