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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lottery funds bill focuses on allocations

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By Ardee Napolitano / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Associated Students of the University of New Mexico Sen. Austin Megli extends a pile of bead necklaces as he distributes them to attendees of UNM Day on Wednesday morning at the state Legislature. About 100 UNM community members travelled to Santa Fe for the event, in which students met with legislators and adorned them with the beads as a University tradition. University organizations also ran a table in the main lobby of the Roundhouse.

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SANTA FE – The last senate bill to be introduced in this year’s legislative session reached the New Mexico Senate floor by the end of UNM Day. And it came in time to address a statewide higher education issue.

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New Mexico Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque, who is wearing a cherry and silver bead necklace, smiles at UNM President Robert Frank at the state Legislature on Wednesday morning. Payne sponsored Senate Bill 379, the last bill introduced in the Senate in this year’s legislative session. The bill would divide total state lottery funds proportionally among universities statewide and would let individual universities decide on how the scholarship would be allocated to each university’s recipients, Payne said.

By Ardee Napolitano / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Senate Bill 379, which focuses on money allocation for the Legislative Lottery Scholarship, was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon, which marked the deadline for the introduction of bills in this year’s session. State Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque, sponsored the bill.

Payne, who rushed that afternoon to get the bill ready, said his concept has never before been considered by other legislators as a solution to the scholarship’s solvency issue.

“A lot of the solutions I’ve put in the past didn’t go anywhere,” he said. “I’ve got another bill that no one has looked at before. On a pro-rata basis, we divide the scholarship money available, and we give them directly to the regents. They determine their own criteria for what the students should get. It may or may not get traction, but it’s a different way than what we have done before.”

The proposed bill would still establish minimum scholarship requirements that would apply to all universities statewide, Payne said. Total state funds for the scholarship will be divided proportionally among universities based on factors such as student population, he said.

He has already discussed the bill with the president of the Eastern New Mexico University prior to its introduction, Payne said.

Payne said solving the scholarship’s solvency issue requires a difficult decision, and that S.B. 379 will allocate the scholarship funds the most efficiently.

“The problem we have is keeping the scholarship within the confines of the money raised by lottery sales,” he said. “We have to change how it’s portioned to the students. That’s a political decision that everyone has a political decision on, including every student at UNM. We’re hustling with that decision, and hopefully we can come up with a decision.”

But State Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said the proposed bill’s concept would result to money mismanagement among universities.

“I don’t want them to be making the decisions on how much money should be given to students or to have some sort of rule or procedure for those who get it,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Sanchez, who introduced and pushed for the Legislative Lottery Scholarship in 1996, said he thinks that increasing the requirements for the lottery, especially the minimum required GPA, is discriminative.

“I’m against anything that would exclude students from having access to the Lottery Scholarship,” he said. “Not everybody can do a 2.75. I think a 2.5, right now, is more realistic. Students have to work. Students have to take care of their children. There are a lot of things that go on outside of a school setting.”

To fix the scholarship for the long term, legislators must seek more revenue sources instead of editing the scholarship’s original form, Sanchez said.

“We’re looking for revenue sources,” he said. “We have $3 million right now from the budget that would take care of this (fiscal) year, and we’re going to look for additional money to make sure that we have it until 2015. We’ll have some sort of solution that comes out of this session in terms of transforming the lottery scholarship.”

UNM President Robert Frank, who appeared at the Legislature that day, said that although Payne’s bill might be innovative, he has to look into more information about it.

“Sen. Payne is a great supporter of the University, so anything he puts out is worthy of consideration,” he said.

UNM Day

About 100 UNM community members journeyed to Santa Fe for the annual UNM Day. Attendees met with legislators at the Roundhouse before the Senate and House of Representatives sessions kicked off at 11 a.m.

Frank said University members expressed their gratitude to legislators through the event. But he said UNM Day, this year, also served to remind legislators of the lottery solvency issue’s urgency.

“The University is huge, and we have a big impact on New Mexico,” he said. “It’s a chance to talk about the many, many things the University does and to tell legislators how much we appreciate their support. It’s half celebration and half education.”

Besides the scholarship, students are able to discuss other problems related to UNM during the event, Payne said. He said this involvement is very important.

“Probably a third of the state Senate and the House are UNM alumni, maybe even more,” he said. “Every year, we get a little card that tells us how many faculty, staff and students we have in our districts. My district has 8,000 people who are directly connected to UNM. So I pay close attention to UNM.”

During the event, students adorned legislators they talked to with cherry and silver bead necklaces. UNM organizations also staffed tables in the main lobby of the Legislature.

Associated Students of the University of New Mexico President Isaac Romero said UNM Day was advantageous for the statewide representation of university issues.

“The primary purpose of UNM Day is to get students involved with the decision makers of the state,” he said. “They get to advocate for whether it’s capital outlay, the lottery scholarship fund or the health sciences center. It’s not just about the student government, but all of UNM.”

Romero said although the deadline for introducing bills has passed, amendments to current proposed bills will still be allowed for the duration of the session. This makes the rest of the session unpredictable, especially for the lottery, he said.

“There’s a possibility that solutions that we have no idea about appear two days before they end the session,” he said.

Frank said he is nonetheless optimistic that legislators will solve the problem on time.

And Romero agrees.

“After the session, I think this will be fine,” he said. “I think it will work out one way or the other.”

The New Mexico legislative session runs until Feb. 20.