State scholarship insolvent
As the spring semester kicks off, the New Mexico State Legislature will have to confront the issue of the Lottery Scholarship, which they postponed from last year’s legislative session.
New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session begins today, and while many legislators and state bodies have found it urgent to find a solution to preserve the Lottery Scholarship, most still don’t agree on exactly how to do so.
Here are the viewpoints of several sides on how to find funds to maintain the Lottery Scholarship.
In 2013, state Democrats worked to pass a bill that transferred money from the state’s Tobacco Settlement Fund to make up for the Lottery’s deficit until this fiscal year. This year, Democrats are advocating for the usage of taxpayer money through the state’s general fund to fund the Lottery on a long-term basis.
Among the supporters of this legislation is Rep. Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, who serves as the chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. Although the Lottery Scholarship has never depended directly on taxpayer money since its founding in 1995, “(what) we’re going to have to do is bite the bullet and put some general fund money in there,” Saavedra told the New Mexico Watchdog earlier this month.
Last year, Republican legislators sponsored multiple bills that aimed to restructure the Lottery Scholarship. Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, introduced legislation that would have increased the required minimum credit hours for the Lottery from 12 to 15 and would have reduced the length of time the Lottery would provide funding from eight to seven semesters.
This year, many Republicans are not supportive of using money from the general fund to finance the Lottery.
“I don’t think that’s a function of government, to pay for college educations,” White told the Watchdog. “We already pay the universities in the state to the tune of $900 million.”
Rep. Thomas Taylor, R-Farmington, has also already drafted a bill that aims to “(increase) eligibility for legislative Lottery Scholarships to include military dependents of New Mexico residents,” to be introduced in this year’s legislative session.
In a preliminary budget proposal issued last month, Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, urges the expenditure of $16 million from the general fund “to cover shortfalls in the Lottery Fund to ensure there are adequate funds for student scholarships.” But Martinez reiterates that it is only going to be a one-time appropriation and that she does not support the regular use of taxpayer money to preserve the Lottery.
Although UNM President Robert Frank said that the University administration is not advocating for a specific solution with regard to the Lottery, Frank told the Daily Lobo in a November interview that slightly raising the GPA requirement of the Lottery “seems like a fair-minded way to solve the problem, and if you followed all the discussions, that solution keeps coming up.”
Frank also said he prefers to have an equal amount of the scholarship spread across each semester a student spends at UNM.
“I think (having it spread equally) is better to keep students engaged in school, which is most likely to lead to student success,” he said.
The University’s undergraduate student body has been active in seeking a way to preserve the Lottery in the past. In 2013, then-ASUNM President Caroline Muraida and then-UNM Student Regent Jacob Wellman drafted H.B. 586, which aimed to convert the Lottery into a needs-based scholarship.
This year, ASUNM continues to build upon that activity.
In September, ASUNM hosted a Lottery Scholarship summit that gathered university students statewide to come up with a solution. But so far, ASUNM has not publicly advocated for a formal proposal yet.
ASUNM President Isaac Romero said that temporarily, the student government will aim to maintain the current requirements for the Lottery. But as a long-term solution, ASUNM is mulling the possibility of increasing the Lottery’s GPA requirement to 2.75 and providing a minimum of 15 credit hours per semester.
“But we want to allow students in their first year to have the benefit of the doubt when transitioning into college,” he said. “If they drop below 15 credit hours, but no less than 12, they still get the scholarship.”