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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Lobo Letter

A number of educational issues still need answering by legislators

As this is written, we are only days away from the end of the 2014 New Mexico legislative session. As is the pattern for our legislature, many of the important bills covering the budget, etc., are still moving through the two chambers. There are still many unanswered questions regarding the fate of the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship, the budget for higher education — particularly for research institutions such as UNM — as well as the overall state budget.

The staff of UNM, its Councilors, the Government Relations Committee as well as the leadership of the University have spent countless hours working in conjunction with students, faculty and administration to advocate for our common goals such as the solvency of the Scholarship, an issue of critical importance to our undergraduate students and their families.

Almost half of our Main Campus students and roughly 7,000 total students receive Scholarship funding, and many would perhaps not be able to attend the university without it. This is important to our students’, the university’s and New Mexico’s future. We support legislation that ensures the solvency of the fund for current and future students.

Over the past five years the effects of the recession have been felt by all, including staff and faculty. We as an institution were able to avoid the substantial cuts in staff and faculty that many other states incurred, but these came at a price to our staff and faculty.

We have faced increases in health care costs, additional pension contributions as well as inflation. While the Regents provided a one-time payment two years ago and a one-percent pay increase last year, these have been more than offset by the increase in health care and pensions cost alone. This means that most UNM staff and faculty have less take home pay today than several years ago. With additional increases in pension costs slated, additional salary increases are necessary to simply maintain the status quo. We therefore support legislation (HB2) that provides the best chance for an increase.

Another result of the economic downturn has been deferred maintenance and delays in capital projects essential to the ongoing functions of the University. UNM has a $386 million backlog of deferred maintenance that continues to grow at a rate of $20 million per year. We support funding to begin to address the maintenance backlog as well as support for several capital projects including funding for the Farris Engineering Center (SB 53).

These initiatives and many more, such as the State Graduate Employment Tax Credit (SB 36) that provides employers with a tax credit of up to $5,000 for each qualified graduate hired, would benefit not only our graduates but also help retain these individuals within the state, thus helping to rebuild our economy with well-paying jobs and an improving educated workforce.

With the legislative session ending this Thursday it is essential that you contact your legislators and the Office of the Governor to express your support for legislation that continues to serve New Mexico’s students and the university, including staff and faculty.

If you know your legislator, please take a few minutes to call or email them with your message. If you do not know who your legislator is, please look up their information on nmlegis.gov.

It is also especially important to contact members of House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees as these are the committees with the most impact on the budget at this stage of the session.

With over 5,000 staff, we can have an impact on legislation of importance to the university and our futures if we make our voices heard. Thank you for your support and Go Lobos!

Gene V. Henley
President
UNM Staff Council