I appreciated reading the Daily Lobo’s recent article about the history of the Lottery Scholarship, as it is extremely concerning to many students that the Lottery Scholarship is covering less and less of our tuition every year.
As reported, students almost lost more scholarship funding during this past 2018 legislative session because of a bill that would have eliminated the law guaranteeing the scholarship fund 30 percent of lottery revenues and replacing that guarantee with a $38 million, later $40 million, floor. As it was introduced, this bill provided no incentive for the New Mexico Lottery to ever expand our scholarship fund, or even continue to provide the $42 million a year that it has received on average for the past decade.
Students care deeply about the Lottery Scholarship fund, as it pays tuition costs for many of us. We also understand the strength of our student voice and entrust ASUNM to represent all of us at the capitol.
However, I am concerned that ASUNM fell short in representing our interests during this past session.
Here’s what happened: ASUNM was wisely skeptical of the original bill and ran a smart and highly effective media campaign that convinced the legislative sponsor to negotiate with students.
Unfortunately, they were too quick to shift to supporting the bill in exchange for an amendment that did not actually protect students. The amendment would have put unclaimed prize money (roughly $1.5 to $2 million a year) into the scholarship fund, but the language did not specify that this would be in addition to the $38 million floor.
Therefore, students would have only received the $38 million provided in the original bill. This would have decreased the average students annually receive from the Lottery Scholarship fund. Given the extraordinary leverage that ASUNM had to negotiate, why did they choose to take a deal that would guarantee less than what students had been receiving before?
Fortunately, as the Daily Lobo recounted, the bill was transformed from one that harmed students into one that favored students when three amendments were added to the bill on the House floor. The amendments increased the $38 million floor to $40 million, made sure unclaimed prizes would be added on top of the $40 million and capped the New Mexico Lottery administrative spending at 15 percent.
A fact less known: these amendments were drafted and advocated for by Think New Mexico, an independent think tank, and legislators, not ASUNM. While it was very positive that ASUNM supported the new bill with the added amendments, it was too late, as there was no time left in the session and the bill died quietly.
Going forward, ASUNM and the governmental affairs office need to take a more proactive approach in designing and advocating for lottery reform legislation that protects students and maximizes dollars for scholarships.