When the Higher Education funding proposals left House Appropriations Monday, it was with the firm directive from committee members that the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) and the executive branch, represented by the Higher Education Department (HED) and the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA ), work out a compromise on their differences over the funding formula.
The two sides have widely divergent approaches on three issues: how far, how fast and at what cost to existing budgets to implement change to outcomes-driven metrics; how to weigh student credit hours, which traditionally have generated the dollars that keep the doors open; and how to fund compensation and Education Retirement Board employer contributions.
This afternoon in Senate Finance, committee members had no interest in rehashing the funding formula debate, other than to hear that the LFC considers its version transparent and easily understood while HED characterizes its version as stable and predictable.  Senators wanted to know if there has been any progress made on the House mandate. None was reported, though DFA Deputy Secretary Andrew Jacobsen said the two sides are “working frantically to explore the middle ground.” They were reminded that time is running short.
Lottery Scholarship
So the SFC turned its attention to lottery solvency plans. Chairman John Arthur Smith (D-Deming) is sponsoring one of a half-dozen bills seeking solvency, though none were discussed. Again, LFC and DFA have differing approaches on how to keep the scholarships viable.
Reporting on work over the summer, HED Secretary Jose Garcia told the committee that his working group came forward with a wide variety of approaches and preferences which did not result in consensus but did lead to 32 different solvency scenarios for legislators to consider.
Sen. George Munoz (D-Gallup) questioned why HED could not look at the 32 and come up with the best five or so.Cautioned Munoz, “If you don’t give us something, we will come up with our own plan and you likely won’t like it.” Referencing both lottery solvency and the funding formula, Munoz added: “Don’t force us to make these kind of decisions in a rush…they won’t be good for anybody.”
Graduate Tax Credit
For the past two sessions, Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) has carried the graduate student tax credit bill, which provides a $5000 tax credit to NM businesses who employ NM graduates with masters or doctorates in the STEM-H (science, technology, engineering, math, health care) fields. Our GPSA students had been instrumental in designing the bill. Hoping third time’s a charm, Keller is sponsoring the bill (SB 36) once again and this afternoon, it got a Do Pass in Senate Corporations. Next stop is Senate Finance.