Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) chair Rep. Lucky Varela (D-Santa Fe) shared his vision for higher education funding, which features fairness and winners across the board rather than winners and losers. During a lengthy discussion about lottery scholarship solvency, Varela said legislators will want to understand all of the financial options available to students before they can make informed decisions about how to achieve lasting solvency.
Recently it was learned that money from the Tobacco Settlement fund that was supposed to shore up lottery scholarships this coming spring has been withheld because a negative arbitration decision could mean reductions in tobacco monies of $12 million to $24 million. Varela said there is a proposal in the works to backfill the promised money for the lottery scholarship from the General Fund. Additionally, LFC staff will be recommending that there be a recurring infusion of General Fund monies to the lottery scholarship fund. Deputy LFC Director Charles Sallee said its solvency will need both new revenues as well as scholarship benefit reductions in order to be viable.
The lottery scholarship also dominated much of the students’ conversation with Dept. of Finance and Administration (DFA) analysts, Higher Ed Dept. Secretary Jose Garcia and Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque). They were also briefed on UNM priorities, bill drafting and legislative protocols.
Tobacco Settlement Woes
Sen. McSorley co-chairs the Tobacco Settlement Revenue Oversight Committee, which is wrestling with the potential fallout from the pending fund reductions. Committee members had hoped to hear assurances that the reductions won’t continue into future years were disappointed. Lawyers from the Attorney General’s office believe there is great potential for an ongoing dispute with Big Tobacco over the settlement funds.
Meanwhile, the committee is considering regulations for e-cigarettes, their ban for purchase/use by minors and the potential for their future taxation – perhaps monies that can replenish those lost funds.