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Friday, November 28, 2014

Lottery-Saving Bills Breakdown

news@dailylobo.com
@JCTyczkowski

With only three weeks left in this year’s legislative session, Lottery Scholarship-related bills are pouring in.

Three bills were introduced into the state Senate that attempt to address the lack of sufficient funds to power the Lottery for the next fiscal year.

Lottery expenditures for Fiscal Year 2014 are about $67.5 million, while lottery revenues for the same period only total about $44 million, according to hed.state.nm.us.

Senate Bill 141, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would keep students’ tuition rates constant over eight consecutive semesters of receiving the Lottery, tied to the tuition rate from the student’s first semester of school.

It also would maintain a full-time credit load to be 12 credit hours per semester during the regular academic year.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, would seek to raise full-time credit loads from 12 to 15 credit hours per semester.

In addition, this bill would lock in the tuition rate from the student’s first semester of school for the, “remainder of the semesters, excluding summer semesters, in which the student receives Lottery tuition.”

Unlike SB 141, there is no limit as to how many semesters students can receive the Lottery Scholarship.

This bill by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, would make sweeping changes to the current Lottery, including changing the award amounts given to students, creating additional awards for qualifying students and requiring the Lottery fund to maintain a minimum balance at all times.

Regarding specifics, SB 150 would change the minimum required GPA from 2.5 to 2.75 during the first semester of Lottery qualification. Students would be required to maintain the 2.75 GPA and take at least 15 credit hours per semester, or at least 12 credit hours if attending a two-year college, throughout the seven semesters of receiving the Scholarship.

However, “legacy students,” — those who began receiving the Lottery before FY 2015 — would only need to maintain the original 2.5 GPA and take at least 12 credit hours per semester for the remainder of their eight semesters on the scholarship.

In the case of students, “with disabilities who may require accommodations,” full-time credit status may be reevaluated to as few as six credits per semester, but no less, for a period not to exceed 14 consecutive semesters.

In addition, non-legacy students would no longer receive full tuition through the Lottery. Students attending four-year research institutions, such as UNM, NSMU and the NM Institute of Mining and Technology, would receive up to $2,100 per semester.

Those attending a comprehensive institution, such as NM Highlands University or Northern New Mexico College, would receive up to $1,000 per semester. Those attending community colleges would receive $800 or the full amount of in-district resident tuition, whichever is less.

In addition, the Lottery Tuition Fund would be created in the state treasury and would be required to maintain a balance of $2 million at all times, which would roll over from year to year.

In the event that the total amount of scholarship money paid out to students would cut into that minimum balance, the Higher Education Department would reduce scholarship amounts across the board for all non-legacy students in order to maintain that balance.

Also, SB 150 would appropriate $8 million from the general fund for each fiscal year, beginning for FY 2015.

The bill also contains an emergency provision declaring that, “it is necessary for the public peace, health and safety that this act take effect immediately.” According to a fiscal impact report released by the Legislative Finance Committee, the New Mexico Lottery Authority said that SB 150, “should be sufficient to maintain (Lottery Scholarship) solvency.”