New Mexico State University Chancellor Garrey Carruthers had some advice for Gov. Susana Martinez in 2013.
“I think maintaining a respectful relationship with the Legislature does pay off,” Carruthers said at the time.
“She’s got the charm and the intellect to do that, and if I were to recommend one thing, I’d turn that charm on,” said Carruthers, a former N.M. governor who, like Martinez, is a Republican.
More than four years later, many legislators say Martinez has been anything but respectful. She has vetoed a plan to balance the state’s budget that passed with bipartisan support. That included nixing all funding for the Legislature. These days she is repeatedly hammering the “do-nothing Senate,” which she accuses of wasting time and shirking “their responsibility to do the good work of the people.”
Lawmakers, in response, plan to sue over Martinez’z vetoes and try for an extraordinary session, possibly to attempt an override of the vetoes. Though the governor and legislative leaders say they want compromise, there’s no clear path to resolve the situation before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
Also included in the governor’s vetoes was all funding for the state’s public colleges and universities — $745 million — in addition to tax increases to balance the budget. Now Carruthers is helping lead a growing chorus of New Mexicans who are speaking out against the governor’s higher education veto and the gridlock that threatens to leave colleges and universities with no state funding on July 1.
Known for diplomacy, Carruthers isn’t pointing fingers. But he has complained about higher education being “caught up in a political strategy.”
“Clearly, higher education in the state must be funded and we hope both sides will work expeditiously to resolve their differences,” Carruthers wrote in a recent message to the NMSU community.
Carruthers and other university presidents are also speaking about the toll the standoff will take if it’s not resolved.
“The message the veto sent to our 133,505 registered students and their families, while unintended, leaves them confused and wondering whether they should enroll in a New Mexico college or whether they’ll be able to finish their degree and graduate,” Carruthers and the presidents of the state’s other four-year universities wrote last week in a letter to Martinez and lawmakers.
“While we are trying to calm their fears, there is concern that many of our state’s brightest students will move to other states to pursue their higher education,” they wrote.
The university presidents warned that they could also lose professors and economic development opportunities from companies concerned about “quality higher education and strong workforce training.”
Carruthers sent talking points to the entire NMSU community on Monday so those who “are so moved could write to their own legislators and to the Governor.”
Among the highlights:
- “New Mexico’s institutions of higher education cannot absorb further budget cuts without detrimental effects to our students’ quality of education and affordability, as well as to the state’s current and future work force.”
- “We cannot stress enough how much the state appropriation means to each of our students and their families. Without it, the amount of tuition each student would pay increases dramatically by roughly three times of what they are currently paying.”
- “The Council of University Presidents’ seven four-year institutions have eliminated 2,801 jobs over the past 5-7 years. However, this can be interpreted as a significantly higher job loss because the State’s Higher Education Jobs multiplier of 1.64 results in a job loss total of 4,593.”
The higher education funding plan Martinez vetoed included a 1 percent cut, or just over $69 million. The talking points Carruthers sent out state, “Any cut above the 1 percent would result in the elimination of programs and jobs, make accreditations vulnerable, raise tuition, and negatively impact student services.”
In part because of previous reductions in state funding, NMSU has made dramatic cuts since 2011, including reducing its workforce by 20 percent.
When he was the state’s governor from 1987-1991, Carruthers asked lawmakers to raise taxes to balance the budget. Last fall, he declined to comment on whether lawmakers and the governor should raise taxes to address the current situation, saying it was their decision.
But in the letter they sent last week, Carruthers and the other university presidents expressed “deep concern” about Martinez’s veto.
“Clearly higher education must be funded and at a level that enables us to continue the fine work of educating our state’s current students and future workforce,” they wrote. “We cannot continue our mission without the state funding and at the very least, at the current levels.”