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Legislative Session Convenes Tuesday

Key issues highlight higher education concerns

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Legislative Reception
UNM President Robert Frank discusses higher education at a legislator reception. Photo credit: UNM Alumni Association

Two hundred and ninety two pre-filed bills, memorials and resolutions will greet lawmakers when the 2014 session of the New Mexico Legislature convenes Tuesday, Jan. 21. It is anticipated that many more will be introduced. This is the even-year session focused on crafting the FY 15 state budget as well as other financial issues. Actions taken in the next 30 days will be of great import to UNM, to all of higher education and to the entire State of New Mexico.

“We are looking forward to working closely with both the Legislature and the Executive on positive funding outcomes for our students, faculty and staff,” UNM President Robert G. Frank said. “We thank all of our constituencies, including UNM alumni and parents, who contribute to this team effort.”

Still to be introduced are the big budget bills, including the General Appropriations Act (HB 2) that funds state government, public schools and higher education. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee (HAFC) as well as Senate Finance (SFC) have been meeting the past week to get a head start on their budget hearings. Higher education will go before these committees on Jan. 27 and Jan. 29 respectively.

A number of bills focusing on the lottery scholarship fund are anticipated. The scholarship’s solvency is the most important outcome sought by New Mexico students. UNM student leaders have convened a coalition of students from institutions throughout the state who have been working on possible fixes that include higher standards for achieving and keeping the scholarship. Legislators must balance calls for reform with calls to find new revenue sources to keep the fund afloat. 

UNM will also be working for its fair share of capital outlay funds. As 2014 is a General Obligation (GO) bond year, university leaders currently support Higher Education Department recommendations that provide $22.8 million for the renovation of Farris Engineering and $19.8 million for the expansion of the Domenici Health Education building, as well as bond money for projects at UNM’s four branch campuses. Capital outlay is crucial for the University. For example, at a time when New Mexico faces critical shortages of health care workers, UNM last year could not enroll more than 400 qualified students in health programs because of the lack of classroom space. UNM leaders will also be working with both the executive and the legislature to get money in the severance tax bond bill to fund the plan and design for the physics building.             

Pre-session budget recommendations differ on a number of issues, but none greater than compensation. The Legislative Finance Committee backs a 1.5 percent pay hike for all state employees as well as public school and higher education employees. The Executive recommendation forwarded by the Department of Finance and Administration focuses on targeted pay hikes, which do not include increases for higher education employees.

The campus community can follow the progress of bills of interest to UNM on the 2014 Bill Tracker, which can be found on the Government and Community Relations website at Government Relations.  Additionally, interested individuals can also get the latest legislative news by signing up for updates, also at Government Relations.

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