The student body presidents at six New Mexico universities are urging Gov. Susana Martinez and state lawmakers to put politics aside and fund higher education.
“We are disappointed in those elected to serve us, as they have allowed such a critical issue to be caught in the middle of partisan political crossfire,” a letter from the student body presidents states. “If the governor truly cared about higher education in this state, she would not leave our higher education institutions and the thousands of students they serve in the dark about their anticipated budgets for the next year.”
The letter comes in response to the political gridlock that has left funding for all public colleges and universities in New Mexico in limbo for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Martinez, a Republican, vetoed that $745 million from the budget approved by lawmakers last month, in addition to nixing funding for the Legislature and a bill that would raise an estimated $350 million from tax increases to help fund the budget.
The letter is signed by six student body presidents: Kyle Biederwolf from the University of New Mexico, Matt Bose from New Mexico State University, Gabriel Montoya from New Mexico Tech, Julian Padilla from New Mexico Highlands University, Claudia Osuna Ochoa from Western New Mexico University, and Joshua Alvarez from Eastern New Mexico University.
Martinez said at a news conference in Española on Monday that she will OK the funding for higher education as long as it’s not supported by tax increases. But she didn’t lay out a plan to balance the budget through other means.
That leaves her and the Legislature locked in the same battle they’ve fought all year. After already approving significant reductions in funding for government agencies in recent years, House Democrats have said they won’t approve additional cuts. Martinez has signaled a willingness to consider tax reform but not specifically tax hikes — and she rejected every tax increase the Legislature sent her.
The Senate approved a bipartisan plan that included the tax increase bill Martinez vetoed, which had no support from Republicans in the House.
Legislative leaders have approved lawsuits against the governor to try to undo her vetoes. Some are also trying to gather the signatures to call themselves into session, possibly to attempt a veto override. But whether either path will be successful isn’t clear.
Martinez has pledged to call a special session but not set a date. She says she wants a deal in place first, but talks thus far haven’t resulted in an agreement.
In their letter, the student body presidents wrote that they “firmly believe that access to higher education is more important than ever in New Mexico.”
“We need to be investing in bright and innovative minds to tackle our state’s challenges,” they wrote. “… Protect our students from politics and ensure that we are given the resources we need to become the next generation of leaders in our state.”
The student body presidents join the leaders of their universities, who last week sent a letter to Martinez and lawmakers expressing concern 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,” the university presidents wrote in their letter.
“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.
Here’s the full statement from the student body presidents, which was sent to NMPolitics.net by the student government communications director at UNM:
We, the presidents of the student government associations of the four-year higher education institutions in the State of New Mexico, are concerned about the Governor’s line-item veto of New Mexico Higher Education. We firmly believe that access to higher education is more important than ever in New Mexico. We need to be investing in bright and innovative minds to tackle our state’s challenges. We are disappointed in those elected to serve us, as they have allowed such a critical issue to be caught in the middle of partisan political crossfire. If the Governor truly cared about higher education in this state, she would not leave our higher education institutions and the thousands of students they serve in the dark about their anticipated budgets for the next year. We find it disappointing that politics are being put in front of the success of New Mexico students. We urge our Governor and legislators to come together during the special session to address higher education funding with students and the future of New Mexico at the forefront of the conversation. Protect our students from politics and ensure that we are given the resources we need to become the next generation of leaders in our state.
NM TECH SGA President
Claudia Osuna Ochoa