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UNM legislature requests face challenges

At the January Board of Regents meeting, UNM President Bob Frank noted that the dropping oil prices could mean an almost 50 percent decrease for the University’s state funding. But as the legislative session begins, the near $7.5 million loss in revenue for the state could impact a number of other projects for which UNM had hoped to receive funding.

Above the normal 14 percent of the state budget that goes to high education each year, UNM announced that it needs $27,859,516 for infrastructure projects on multiple campuses. This money would could mostly from future General Obligation and Severance Tax Bonds.

The Legislative Finance Committee recommended plenty of money for higher education for the 2016 Fiscal Year, but that number may be far more than the state can afford because of the lower gas prices.

For Main campus alone, there are a range of other priorities, including money to raise employee pay, as a way to help with recruitment and retention with faculty members; additional funds for Research and Public Service Project and deferred maintenance funding to help decrease a $375 million backlog.

“For FY 16, the committee recommends $857.5 million in general fund appropriations for the Higher Education Department, colleges and universities and special schools. This is an increase of $18.8 million, or 2.2 percent, over FY15 appropriations,” the recommendations stated.

The recommendation went on to state that it supported funding for the Health Sciences Center, financial aid programs for students and increasing loan repayment programs for graduates who go on to become healthcare professionals in the state.

The funding recommended for the Health Sciences Center would certainly help, since it requested the largest chunk of change - $8 million. That money would go to pay medical school faculty a higher wage that would attract respected faculty physicians, to create student residency programs in rural areas of New Mexico and to found a Center for Childhood Maltreatment. The last would allow UNM’s Child Abuse Response Team to provide support for medical professionals statewide in treating and determining instances of child abuse.

Further funding requests include a variety of other healthcare-minded projects, including an expansion to the Pain Center that would significantly decrease the wait for first-time appointments. Project ECHO is also hoping to receive money to build its telehealth consultation program, which would allow UNM specialists to offer specialty are to providers throughout the state.

The Daily Lobo news desk can be reached at news@dailylobo.com, or on Twitter @DailyLobo.

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