SANTA FE, N.M. — House Democrats introduced a bill Friday to give the University of New Mexico a recurring appropriation of $2 million to reinstate four sports.
Led by House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chair Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup), the money would be taken from the state’s general fund to restore the men and women’s ski team, women’s beach volleyball, and men’s soccer.
Other sponsors of House Bill 320 (HB 320), all Democrats, are representatives Antonio “Moe” Maestas, Javier Martinez, Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Speaker of the House Brian Egolf. Egolf told the Daily Lobo on election night that the sports cut by UNM would be reinstated, and new Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham also campaigned on a promise to bring the programs back.
“UNM has not initiated a request for funding to reinstate any discontinued sports offerings,” Interim Deputy Chief of Staff Cinnamon Blair said. “We will examine this bill carefully and will provide information for the fiscal impact report."
The bill includes requirements for the Board of Regents to report information about the Athletic Department to the Legislative Finance Committee, such as the amounts paid out to coaches and administrators, in addition to giving the Committee the ability to conduct performance evaluations on all of the information listed above, as well as contracts entered by the University.
Martinez said these guidelines are in place to prevent future malfeasances by the Athletics Department.
“The UNM Athletics Department has had a history of lack of transparency,” Martinez said. “This proposal will allow us to keep closer tabs on what’s happening in that department.”
Lundstrom said the figure was determined by a joint effort of Legislative Finance Committee staff and UNM staff to determine operating costs.
“It does not, in any way, cover all costs. I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be doing any kind of bailout,” Lundstrom said.
She said UNM has a responsibility to present strategies for expanding revenue, such as ticket sales.
“As a state legislator we have a responsibility to look into things when the public is concerned,” Lundstrom said, referencing the public outcry at meetings when sports cuts were discussed. At a regents meeting in August — which was a do-over of the first meeting in July — Lundstrom asked UNM to reconsider the decision, and her microphone was cut off after the regents enforced a three-minute public speaking limit.
Lundstrom said the $2 million is recurring because it will be added as a line item in the general appropriations bill, which causes them to be applied every year, even though the language in the bill does not go over that process.
At the time, she had said the legislature had three proposals to save the programs, however a member of the University budget team, Nicole Dopson, said none of the plans could comply with Title IX or address deficit spending.
Title IX is a federal provision that “protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.”
Before sports were cut, an investigation in summer 2018 was done by Helen Grant Consulting — for $6,000 — that determined the Athletics Department was not compliant with Title IX. This was due to a gender gap in women and men student-athletes, and disparate spending on programs between men’s and women’s sports. One of the suggestions of the report was to cut men’s soccer or baseball.
The Daily Lobo asked Lundstrom how this money would address Title IX concerns, and she said reinstating beach volleyball and women’s skiing would help with Title IX, but more discussion would be needed.
Both Egolf and Martinez responded that bringing back beach volleyball would help with issues related to Title IX, despite the fact that UNM Athletics faced Title IX issues before any sports were cut.
10 of the past 12 Athletics' budgets have operated in deficit, accruing a debt of $4.3 million. Year after year, the budgets were approved by both the Board of Regents, and VP of Administrative Affairs and CFO, David Harris.
UNM asked for $4.1 million in their appropriations request from the state, with that money intended to prevent future cuts and help the University pay for more full-time athletic trainers, increase the travel budget and improved student welfare. That total is $1.5 million more than the $2.6 million the department received from the state during the last legislative session.
However, when asked about how this increase would relate to the $2 million appropriation, Lundstrom said she hasn’t been consulted by UNM regarding their budget.
“They haven’t asked for anything yet,” Lundstrom said. “What they’ve done is they’ve had that in the press, but that has not come to me.”
The bill is currently in the Appropriations and Finance Committee, where it will be voted on to determine if it will move before the full House.
There will be a hearing before House Appropriations and Finance committee on Feb. 9.
Men's soccer coach Jeremy Fishbein, who has been the face of the effort to save his sport and the others, reacted to the news on Twitter on Friday night.
“The State of New Mexico loves and supports Lobo Soccer.....WE LOVE NEW MEXICO and love impacting the youth of our State,” he said. “Looks like we have the money to REINSTATE LOBO SOCCER. LETS DO IT!”
This story will be updated with more information as it becomes available.