With the start of the 2023 New Mexico legislative session on Tuesday, Jan. 17, the University of New Mexico unveiled its priorities for the upcoming 2024 fiscal year. The priorities focus on research and public service project requests and general outlined goals UNM seeks to further and accomplish prior to the session’s closing at noon on Saturday, March 18.
The more general legislative priorities, outlined by the University’s Office of Government and Community Relations, include recruiting and retaining current staff, faculty and health professionals; improving student support services as well as “workforce development, research and public service,” improving campus safety, retaining state-funded scholarships, improving health care and health care access, and promoting economic growth, according to the Office of Government and Community Relations.
The list represents a year-long process to collate what issues are most important to the University as a whole, taking into account a multitude of factors like student, staff and faculty input as well as the UNM 2040 goal outline, according to Michael Puelle, the chief government relations officer for UNM.
“This is a year-round process, meaning even though the Legislature meets early in the calendar year, we are in communication — and I say we: I mean people across the University, not just government relations. I mean our faculty, students staff — are in communications through the interim committee process, preparing for an opening of the session,” Puelle said.
The FY24 legislative priorities plan details research and public service projects requests and capital outlay projects that the University would like to see passed during the sessions. An appropriation is the legislature allocating public money toward a particular purpose; RPSP requests are made by higher education institutions that work in tandem with an institution’s annual funding recommendations; and capital outlay projects use capital funds to improve public buildings, according to the New Mexico State Legislature, New Mexico Higher Education Department, and the Legislative Finance Committee, respectively.
“The best way to help the University is for increased funding to the instruction and general higher ed formula … which is something that we care a lot about, because that has a lot to do with compensation for faculty and staff across the University. And that’s how the University maintains its competitiveness,” Puelle said.
The “health professionals” aspect of the first outlined goal is reflected in RPSP requests for the new accelerated bachelor's in nursing science program and expansions to UNM Gallup, Taos and Valencia’s nursing programs. There is also a special appropriations request for $50,000,000 for a school of medicine faculty endowment, according to the UNM pre-session appropriations sheet.
In terms of student services, both El Centro de la Raza as well as the newly formed Asian American Pacific Islander Resource Center are outlined for specific RPSP requests: an approximate $100,000 increase for El Centro and $250,000 in new RPSP funding for the AAPIRC.
Campus safety is highlighted in the third outlined goal, with two — one special appropriations request and one statewide capital request — specifically mentioning safety in the name of the request. The two requests total $5,300,000 and $7,650,000, respectively, both of which are individually less than the requested expanded amount of funding for athletics. Puelle elaborated on what possible changes might look like to improve campus safety if these or other requests achieve funding.
“The investments in the student well-being and security infrastructure would be things like enhanced training for campus safety personnel, including mental health training. But there would also be actual infrastructure investments like safety technology that would include things like … cameras, lighting — actual technology investments that help increase security on campus. So it would be kind of a mix of both services and technology,” Puelle said.
Retaining scholarships, like the opportunity scholarship, which “can be used to cover up to 100% of tuition and required fees at any New Mexico public college or university,” according to the New Mexico Higher Education Department, is also a large priority for the University.
“We support the Governor’s priority to invest more in both opportunity and lottery scholarships. That was a very large and successful initiative of the Governor’s last year … and this year, the Governor would like to expand that investment, and we support her effort to increase funding for the scholarship programs,” Puelle said.
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Alongside requests to increase the nursing programs at the main and branch campuses, various requests for research equipment and renovations for the Health Sciences Center and UNM Hospital seemingly will support the goal of expanding healthcare access. Most notably is a $163,400 new RPSP request to fund a “collaborative to increase health personnel to medically underserved,” according to the sheet.
When it comes to actions outside of the pre-session work, Puelle emphasized things like UNM day — a day where members of the UNM community go to the Roundhouse to advocate for legislation that would impact the University — as well as ensuring these discussions and interactions with leaders and policymakers takes place year round. However, the legislative session does still present a unique opportunity to talk to a large number of leaders and policymakers in one place.
“Week in and week out, some of the challenges that are tackled by our students, faculty and staff — they’re complex, they’re important to people’s lives and they require resources to get to the bottom of. And this is the one time of year we are able to make that case to policy makers that the public investments lead to benefits to our citizens and our communities across the state.And I am glad there’s the opportunity when you have many of our state leaders, kind of focused in one place, to pull together that broad range of ways that UNM contributes,” Puelle said.
Those interested can sign up for updates regarding the legislative session and UNM at the Office of Government and Community Relations website.
John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnSnott