The University of New Mexico postponed the approval of its several-billion dollar budget on Tuesday, tangling with the state over the application of a required employee pay-bump.   

The New Mexico Higher Education Department sent a letter Monday to higher education governing boards that the state expected four-year and two-year institutions’ “ receive a 4 percent increase in compensation.” The letter was sent one day before the UNM 2019-2020 Budget Summit. 

However, Regent President Douglas Brown said some members of UNM were aware of the governor’s edit to House Bill 2, which includes the University’s appropriations, as early as Friday and Saturday. 

UNM President Garnett Stokes and the Budget Leadership Team asked the Board of Regents to postpone budget recommendation process until next week, saying they would have to redevelop the budget to meet the state’s standards.

“We (can) have some time to digest all this information and bring a proposal to you for how we manage this expectation that we would cover a 4 percent compensation increase for our faculty and staff,” Stokes said addressing the regents. 

The BLT, a subcommittee that develops UNM budget recommendations, had only proposed a 2 percent increase for UNM employees in their 2020 draft budget. 

Their recommendation to have a smaller raise came from an interpretation of a two-word phrase in the massive state appropriations bill — a phrase which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham line-item vetoed.

“The wording of “average salary” creates potential for schools to inflate administrator salaries while leaving university staff sort of out in the cold,” said Tripp Stelnicki, Grisham's director of communications. 

The governor's veto, and the letter from her cabinet secretary, made it clear the state expects UNM to provide a 4 percent increase. Stelnicki said the strikethrough didn’t change the responsibility of universities' ability to comply with the law. 

Stokes said the total cost of a 4 percent compensation is $29.9 million. She said those numbers include the pay bump — 4 percent of salary — but also what the University pays in fringe benefits such as retirement and health care.  

The HED received $23.2 million to disperse between all two and four-year institutions and other specialized education institutes (New Mexico military institute, and schools for the blind and deaf) to provide for the tuition increase. 

Stokes told the Daily Lobo in a March interview that only half of the University employees are funded through I&G — others are paid by auxiliaries, federal or other state grants. 

“The 4 percent raise is for faculty and staff who are state-funded,” Stokes said. “The issue is we have a lot of employees who are not actually funded by state money.”

She disagreed with the suggestion that the University can simply cover employees not paid by state money, adding that UNM would still have “$16.5 million find in recurring funds to support a 4 percent increase.” 

Stokes said according to her calculations that a “1 percent tuition increase raises only $700,070.”

Stelnicki said the New Mexican Department of Finance and Administration is still analyzing the numbers presented by UNM. 

“At this point I can’t say — and neither can HED — if that’s hyperbole or back-of-the-napkin math, or where those numbers are coming from,” Stelnicki said. 

Stokes and Interim Provost Richard Wood brought up raising base tuition as a means of covering the cost of the compensation increase. The Daily Lobo previously reported the BLT planned to implement additional fees and upper-division hour costs, but no base tuition changes. But University administration said Tuesday raising tuition is likely the only way to offset costs

The proposed base tuition increase ranges from 3.2 percent to 6 percent according to draft recommendations Wood presented to the board on Tuesday. 

The Daily Lobo asked Stelnicki if the members of the administration support plans to raise tuition to cover the four percent increase.

“That’s the University’s decision to make, I don’t know whether they’re posturing because they want to scapegoat somebody, but it’s not the state’s responsibility to fund 100 percent of the University activity,” he said. 

Anna C. Evanitz, Justin Garcia and Madison Spratto contributed to the reporting of this article.

Danielle Prokop is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @ProkopDani.