As expected, state financial analysts have downgraded revenue estimates for FY16 by $57.8 million because of falling oil and gas prices.

Legislators have $83.2 million in new general fund money to work with as they build the 2015-16 budget, down from $140 million in December and a halcyon $285 million projected last summer. Severance tax bond availability was cut by $20 million.  

That was the news that greeted higher education institutions as they talked budget on Thursday with the Senate Finance committee. Speaking for the four-year institutions, New Mexico Tech University President Dan Lopez noted that the declining revenue picture “does not absolve us from presenting our needs.”

Compensation is the first priority, Lopez said, as faculty and staff struggle to keep up with increasing costs. He also reminded lawmakers that the practice of basing compensation increases solely on I&G numbers means institutions still have to make up 39 percent of any increase from other sources. 

There is institutional support for the funding formula, though lawmakers will have to determine how much new money will be built into it. The Legislative Finance Committee has recommended a two and two tenths percent increase with the executive branch recommending one percent. The smaller schools worry that they will be hurt disproportionately as revenues decline.

Lopez also spoke of non-recurring needs, like funding upgrades and training for information technology, $20 million for deferred maintenance and $20 million for the higher education endowment fund.

Chancellor Paul Roth, UNM Health Sciences Center, again reminded legislators that the School of Medicine is not funded through the formula, so a special line and increase is needed and appreciated.

Playing it close to the vest, committee members had few questions and fewer comments.

Brain Safe
Earlier, the Senate Education Committee considered the UNM Brain Safe bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque). It asks for $3 million so the Mind Research Network can perform annual brain scans of Lobo student-athletes, which will provide baseline data for a host of neuroscience studies into brain trauma. Committee response was positive, but as with all appropriation bills, members tabled SB89 temporarily.