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Students urge Johnson to sign scholarship bill

ASUNM representatives are encouraging students to let Gov. Gary Johnson know how much the lottery scholarship means to them and urge him to sign a bill that would shore up the scholarship.

The governor has two lottery scholarship bills on his desk that must either be signed or vetoed by April 6 or they will be pocket vetoed, or automatically killed by his inactivity.

The scholarship program pays full tuition and is available to New Mexico high school graduates who maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average during their first semester at a state college or university.

According to the Commission on Higher Education, which distributes the lottery scholarship, about 12,000 students will be awarded scholarships this school year - up from 10,000 students in the 1999-2000 school year - at a cost of $19.4 million.

The commission expects the lottery to generate about $24.6 million this year, which it calls a conservative estimate that will be adjusted later during the year.

Johnson alluded to his support of fully funding the scholarship program if the Legislature used some of its $503 million surplus to fund K-12 capitol outlay projects during his State of the State address.

"After we have bolstered our reserves, let's spend the remainder of this windfall, which is non-recurring, on building schools," Johnson said. "Let's address our critical capital needs for education instead of squandering it. It is a conservative approach that will ensure fiscal well-being for years to come. Further, this approach will allow this Legislature to dedicate 100 percent of lottery proceeds to scholarships for New Mexico students, if it so chooses."

The Associated Students of New Mexico and all student governments in the state - including UNM's - support a bill proposed by Belen Democrat Sen. Michael Sanchez that directs 100 percent of the state's lottery revenue toward the scholarship.

ASUNM President Jennifer Liu said the student government supports Sanchez's bill because it is clear, easy to understand and helps students.

"There are no strings attached and it really helps UNM," she said.

The other bill on Johnson's desk was sponsored by Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, Democrat-Santa Fe. It also diverts all the money into scholarships, but after those tuition payments are made each year, and a 10 percent reserve is set aside, the remaining proceeds would be used for technology, such as computers.

Varela's bill also stipulates that the lottery scholarship be used only in last resort circumstances when students were no longer eligible for any other university aid. That bill would adversely affect UNM because the University uses the lottery scholarship in all circumstances and uses it to fund other scholarships, including the Bridge to Success Scholarship.

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Liu encourages all students to rally behind Sanchez's bill.

"I generally ask people to think for a minute whether they or anyone they know receives the lottery scholarship because that's who would be hurt if this action does not go through," she said. "It also reflects on the UNM community. The lottery funding pays for professors, classes and student fees. It is important funding that helps everyone at this University."

She added that it is important to remember that the scholarship reaches out to those who may not normally be able to go to college.

"It has helped me focus on giving back to the University by participating in extracurricular activities, and it helps so many others in different ways," she said.

Liu urged students to call, e-mail or fax the governor, notifying him that they support signing Sanchez's lottery scholarship bill. For more information on how to contact Johnson, call the ASUNM office at 277-5528 or visit Johnson's Web site at

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