After Governor Susana Martinez vetoed all state funding for higher education in a messy budget battle, UNM students are left wondering what will happen to their beloved University.
For the 2017 fiscal year, UNM received an estimated $2.85 billion, but after Martinez vetoed the Higher Education Budget for FY 2018 proposed by the Legislature, the University is left in the dark.
As an action to protest legislative tax increases and spending, something the Republican governor pledged would not happen during her tenure, she vetoed a $6.1 billion spending bill for the next fiscal year.
In her veto message, Martinez also complained that the Senate had not scheduled a hearing for two nominations she made to the UNM Board of Regents.
Political science minor and UNM sophomore Victoria Sieber said she is disheartened by the governor’s actions and saddened by the “lack of trust” between the executive and legislative branches.
“I think that the message that the governor’s actions send to students, staff and families of higher education is rather dim,” Sieber said.
While the governor has not officially stated why she vetoed the proposed higher education budget, she thinks it is the governor’s way of “sending a message” to the Legislature, and not because of their quality or because of the action they would take.
“I do not know if it is possible for me to truly speculate why the governor decided to take these actions. Of course, there is speculation that the move was intentionally made to get back at the Legislature rather than to protect and help the citizens of New Mexico,” Sieber said.
The 133,000 registered New Mexico students could see the negative effects of the governor’s decision as soon as fall 2017 in the form of tripling tuition costs, making New Mexico’s post-secondary school price tag financially impossible for many lower income families.
“If there is a significant increase in tuition prices for New Mexico colleges and universities, I am sure that will have an impact on enrollment for years to come,” Sieber said. “My hope is that the programs that New Mexico institutions have will be strong enough to still draw out-of-state applicants, but it would be naïve to think that an increase in cost would have no impact on enrollment.”
A native New Mexican whose siblings all went to UNM, Sieber said she knows there is always a worry among students that tuition will increase, and she does not know anyone who would be in favor of paying more than they already do for their education.
“I am lucky enough to have a scholarship that covers nearly all of my costs. But if tuition increases, I will have to pay more out of pocket,” Sieber said.
Aaron Kaspi, a junior political science major at UNM, said that not having funding for higher education is obviously a terrible thing, but he does not think the governor’s veto carries much weight in reality.
“I don’t think there is substance behind it and I think it’s a threat,” Kaspi said. “Higher ed has to be funded, and I believe that (Martinez) is trying to stick to her pledge to not raise any taxes in the state, and because there was a budget proposed that did so, she is using these things like higher ed as leverage to get what she wants.”
He said he believes the governor’s furloughs and threats are not legitimate and that she is “grandstanding,” which is a common political threat.
“According to the New Mexico Constitution, the governor is allowed to line-item veto,” Sieber said.
Part of what was so problematic with some of the governor’s many vetoes was the fact that bills were sent back without Martinez spelling out any reasons or objections to the vetoed bill. According to Section 22 in the New Mexico Constitution, the governor “shall return (the bill) to the house in which it originated with (their) objection, which shall be entered at large upon the journal.”
Local government is the root and beginning of change, Sieber said, though she is discouraged by the governor’s decision.
“I absolutely do not think that the best interest for students is what the governor had at heart, and these vetoes seem to only solidify my reasoning,” she said. “I understand that a governor’s ability to veto is a power that can be utilized for very good reasons, but I’m afraid that this legislative session has only cast a brighter light onto the governor’s judgment.”
In his weekly email, acting President Chaouki Abdallah addressed student concerns and recognized the doubt the governor’s actions had created.
“These actions have cast New Mexico in an unflattering light and have generated enormous anxiety and uncertainty among our current students, faculty and staff, as well as incoming students and their families,” Abdallah wrote.
Despite the obvious threat to the University and higher education institutions statewide, he urged students, staff and faculty not to worry too much over the governor’s decision.
“Let me start by assuring everyone that we will have state appropriations by the beginning of the next fiscal year,” Abdallah said. “This has been affirmed repeatedly by the governor and the leadership of the Legislature, and no one expects that UNM and the other post-secondary institutions will not receive state support.”
He informed everyone addressed in the email that the University’s budget leadership team has developed several recommendations for UNM to prioritize its operations and “continue to fulfill its mission for the upcoming year.”
In conjunction with the members of the Legislature, Abdallah and the six other members of the New Mexico Council of University Presidents sent a letter to Martinez seeking $744.8 million to be reinstated by July 1, the beginning of FY 2018.
“I will take these recommendations into consideration as the final University budget for the coming year is prepared to submit to our Board of Regents,” he said. “Efforts will remain focused on making sure that no further cuts are applied, in order to alleviate the amount of revenue we would need from other sources. We are also acting in unison to inform the community at large, through public statements and editorials, of the long-term negative impact that the standoff on our higher education budget may have.”
Though Sieber does not plan to reevaluate her decision to attend college in New Mexico, she said she will have to pay close attention to local and state elections in the future.
“What I can say is that it is disheartening that education, no matter the level, seems to be caught up in political animosity and is being used as a weapon,” she said.
Celia Raney is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Celia_Raney.