Bill would increase required hours
After an all-nighter on the eve of the state legislative session finale, lawmakers will have to issue a final solution to preserve the Legislative Lottery Scholarship’s future.
Legislators will have to pass a lottery bill by noon to prolong the Scholarship’s existence.
Senate Bill 347, which passed 31-11 in the Senate on Monday, seems to be the best bet at the moment, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, the bill’s sponsor.
“The proposal I’ve made to address the lottery scholarship solvency issue is what I believe to be the most inclusive and fair solution for New Mexico’s students,” Sanchez said in a statement. “This is the only proposal that allows additional money to be put into the lottery fund, rather than only limiting scholarship awards.”
Through SB 347, the state would funnel a one-time allocation of $11 million from the general fund for the Scholarship for fiscal year 2015. This is about $8 million more than the general-fund allocation for the Scholarship from last fiscal year.
Then, starting in FY 2016, $18.5 million from the state’s liquor excise tax revenues will be used for the Scholarship.
SB 347 would keep the Scholarship’s GPA requirement at 2.5, although the credit-hour requirement for four-year institutions, such as UNM, will be raised from 12 to 15 credit hours. If their obtained Scholarship funding still does not suffice, freshmen and sophomores will still be guaranteed a full-tuition scholarship, and juniors and seniors, in turn, would take the cut.
“With the additional money coming into the fund, it is estimated that the minimum amount of scholarships should cover at least 89 percent of tuition for juniors and seniors, and 100 percent tuition would be covered for freshmen and sophomores,” Sanchez said. “This means more students have the opportunity to begin and continue their higher education.”
Sanchez said SB 347 would not result in tax increases for New Mexicans.
After the House received the bill from the Senate on Wednesday, representatives have to rush it through committees before a final vote on the floor, said House Majority Floor Leader Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque.
Miera said that because SB 347 presents a unique approach to the Scholarship’s solvency issue, it would be an efficient way to solve the problem. He said he would support the bill in the house.
“I think it’s a different approach to solving a problem for the lottery scholarship,” Miera said. “All the other approaches have been what we can do to change the lottery in such a manner that less people are going to take advantage of it, so therefore it’s going to save money… This one is saying that we just want to put more money into the bucket.”
Although the bill would not solve the problem at once, it might take a little while before legislators would have to find a future fix for the Scholarship, Miera said.
“The solution that this bill brings is not one-year to one-year,” he said. “This would be a three- to four-year operation… Anything that’s up to three or four years is a long-term solution right now.”
Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said that among all the proposed lottery bills, SB 347 looks the best at the moment.
“(Senate Bill) 150 is a little too restrictive,” he said. “We’re going to push out lower-income students and especially students from communities of color. I think (House Bill 263) is too draconian. I think it was not well thought out.”
SB 150 would increase the GPA requirement for the Scholarship from 2.5 to 2.75. HB 263 aims to allow the state to determine the per-student amount of the Scholarship awards based on the funds the Scholarship fund gathered every year and the number of eligible students. The latter would not require any changes in the Scholarship requirements.
Candelaria, who voted for SB 347 late Tuesday night, said the bill is the best proposed compromise regarding the Scholarship so far.
He said he is positive that Gov. Susana Martinez would sign the bill if it survives the House.
“The bill represents a compromise that puts us on a responsible path to long-term solvency for the fund,” he said. “We have to preserve access to students, but we have to assure fiscal stability so that the promise of tuition payments is there for all students… I think it’s a fair middle ground at the end of the day.”
But Isaac Romero, president of the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico, said the he does not support the bill because the increase in the credit-hour requirement will disadvantage a lot of UNM students.
According to data from New Mexico State University, increasing the Scholarship’s credit-hour requirement increase from 12 to 15 credits while maintaining its 2.5 GPA requirement would take away access from 69 percent of currently eligible minority students statewide.
Romero said students should heed the biggest caveat regarding the absence of a guarantee for a full-tuition amount of the lottery for upperclassmen.
“I think that this bill doesn’t really do students justice,” he said. “It helps students early on. In the latter half, there’s no guarantee how much money will be for students… I think this is more harmful to our students than any other proposals.”
New Mexico State University’s student government on Tuesday collaboratively issued a public stance opposing SB 347, Romero said.
Romero said the last lap of the session would be unpredictable, and that he is unsure what to expect of the bill.
“Politics is politics,” he said.
Miera said that he is optimistic that SB 347 will reach the House floor before the clock strikes 12. But at the moment, the final outcome is still hazy, he said.
“It’s a 50-50 chance that it’s going to pass,” he said. “Our numbers had been very tight this year… This one will clearly go clearly through the wire.”