Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed all funding for public universities and colleges by signing the House Appropriations and Finance Committee substitute for House Bills 2 and 3.
In a statement, Martinez said legislators “wasted” their 60-day session on official state song and dance bills, resulting in a budget imbalance and one of the largest tax increases the state has ever seen.
Martinez noted that she has felt “disappointed” in legislators before, but cannot remember ever feeling the way she does now.
“Their reckless decisions had left New Mexico hanging in the balance,” Martinez said.
Debra Haaland, the chairwoman of Democratic Party of New Mexico, said this is just another example of Martinez’ “failed agenda.”
“Time and again Governor Martinez’s Republican priorities have left New Mexico families behind and pushed our state into economic turmoil,” Haaland said in a statement. “From her first days in office waging a war against our immigrant communities and pulling behavioral health services right from under our most vulnerable New Mexicans, to pay to play scandals and vetoing all funding for New Mexico’s colleges and universities — the failed Republican agenda continues to negatively affect New Mexico families.”
In order to assist the state financially, a hiring freeze has been implemented, and the state is planning to lay off employees starting this month, she said. A government shutdown may be in the near future, forcing the state to close MVDs, museums and state parks in order to pay for other state needs like electricity in classrooms.
“In order to return a balanced budget to the legislature, we had to take out the entire higher education budget,” Martinez said. “But there will be time in the special session to fix the higher education budget and the rest of the flawed budget that they sent to us.”
Press Secretary at the Office of the Governor Mike Lonergan said this seemed to be the best way to tackle the problem.
Lonergan and others are confident lawmakers can unite to solve the budget crisis, he said, adding that there is optimism that higher education will be funded and the budget will be balanced without tax increases.
“A complete zeroing-out of state support would devastate universities and colleges in New Mexico,” UNM political science professor Lonna Atkenson said.
Once the legislature returns, Atkenson said she believes Martinez’ plan would either be overturned, or legislation would compromise with her in order to fund colleges and universities.
“Obviously, the state can’t just pull funding, so this is some sort of political maneuver — we’re being held as a political hostage,” Atkenson said.
Others, like David Harris, are more optimistic.
Harris is the Executive Vice President for Administration, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer at UNM.
“The current action by Gov. Martinez is, I believe, an effort on her part to generate better revenue options through the legislature by vetoing two large sections of House Bill two,” Harris said. “In the end, UNM will receive its state appropriation, and we can then proceed to enact a Fiscal Year 18 budget through our Board of Regents.”
Martinez called the decision “unfortunate” and avoidable, adding that she gave legislators over $300 million in options to balance the budget, but the Senate chose not to act, resulting in a $350 million tax increase.
“This is not the way to govern,” Martinez said.
In a campus-wide message, UNM President Chaouki Abdallah said that in order for UNM’s internal budget planning process — which has been discussed for months, to be finalized — the state allocation must be certain.
“Like other public higher education institutions, we depend on the state’s contribution to deliver quality education,” Abdallah said. “Our concern at this stage is that, in the absence of a state appropriation, our internal budget process will be delayed. It is my sincere hope that the Governor and the legislature will provide a higher education budget as soon as possible so that we can serve our students and our state with confidence. I will continue to keep the campus community informed as this process moves forward.”
Harris said UNM has seen a reduction in state appropriations since the recession in 2009 and, although difficult, the University created strategies to combat these reductions, such as modest tuition increases accompanied by austere spending practices.
“While this action does seem severe, I have full confidence that all will ultimately be worked out,” Harris said. “Without question, elimination of these funds could lead to a whole host of undesirable outcomes, including increased tuition, staff reductions, etcetera.”
Martinez said, in the coming weeks, she will call the legislature back to Santa Fe “to finish the job they were supposed to do in the first place.”
“I believe that by working together, we can balance the budget — without tax increases,” she said. “While I'm disappointed in them, I am optimistic that we can come together.”
When asked how the UNM community can help prevent budget cuts, Atkenson simply said “they can’t” — because without being legislators or executives, the University will simply have to wait before taking action.
Elizabeth Sanchez is a reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.