On a 42–25 vote, the New Mexico House of Representatives approved the state budget bill that contains $6.2 billion to fund state government and public education for 2015-16. Higher education’s share of that budget pie is $846 million, with $810 million allocated to the institutions, including a $2.1 million increase in operating funds for UNM.
Approval did not come easily or without some testy debate during the three hour deliberation. Minority Democrats floated a wide-ranging floor amendment that reallocated available funds in a number of areas. For higher education, the amendment restored athletics and educational television funding to FY 15 levels, pumped money into the lottery scholarship to raise awards within 95 percent of tuition and adjusted the higher education funding formula to ease burden on small rural schools.
On party line votes, the majority republicans rejected that amendment and one other that sought to put more money into Native American programs. The budget now goes to the Senate.
Sitting in the state budget bill for the Higher Education Endowment Fund is $5.5 million contingent on passage of language in HB 170 that details how and for what it is to be awarded. So far, however, the bill can’t get past the hurdles thrown up in the House Education Committee.
On its second go-round before the committee, a revised HB 170 still faced a number of challenges to provisions for merit-based salary increases, research positions and the ability of smaller institutions to successfully compete within their own sector as well as the absence of the liberal arts in the mix of eligible initiatives. There were also concerns that a provision for student scholarships needed to be strengthened.
Rather than tabling the bill, which could kill it, the House Education Committee chose to again roll the bill over until such time as a few of its members could meet with bill sponsor Rep. Larry Larranaga (R-Albuquerque) and institution representatives to hash out the finer details.
On a happier note, the Senate Finance Committee gave a do pass to SB255, which allows UNM-Valencia to build an off-campus center on 20 acres of donated land in an industrial park west of I-25. No appropriation has been requested for this project.