- Associated Press - Monday, April 17, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A council of university presidents from around New Mexico is asking that Gov. Susana Martinez restore about $745 million in funding to the state’s public colleges and universities.

The council made its plea in a column published Sunday in the Albuquerque Journal.

New Mexico State University President Garrey Carruthers, a member of the council, said deep concern has spread across the state’s higher education system since vetoes by Martinez resulted in the defunding of all state universities for the next year.

The Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature are locked in a standoff over the state budget, which funds all levels of education and other government services. The governor disagrees with $350 million in tax increases approved by lawmakers to make up for dwindling revenues.

The university presidents said without state funding, the tuition each student pays would climb dramatically. In some cases, it could increase by roughly three times what they’re paying now.

“We cannot stress enough how much the state appropriation means to each of our students and their families,” the presidents wrote. “Students attending the three research institutions could end up paying more than $20,000 a year in tuition to offset the loss of our state appropriations.”

At New Mexico Highlands University, regents have scheduled a special meeting Friday. The agenda includes a preliminary discussion regarding tuition and fees. A formal vote on any proposal would likely happen at the next regular meeting on April 28.

Highlands President Sam Minner and finance officials have been meeting with student government to talk about a possible increase.

The governor’s office said Monday that Martinez is optimistic the budget stalemate will be resolved.

“We hope to have a deal soon, and when we do the governor will call a special session that will, among other things, restore funding for our colleges and universities,” spokesman Mike Lonergan said.

According to university officials, higher education amounts to less than 13 percent of the state’s overall spending, but the cuts to colleges and universities will represent more than two-fifths of the cuts being made to the entire state budget.

The presidents’ council said the situation has left students wondering whether they should enroll in a New Mexico college or whether they’ll be able to finish their degree and graduate. “While we are trying to calm their fears, there is concern many of our state’s brightest students will move to other states to pursue their higher education,” the presidents wrote.

Universities and colleges are required to submit their budgets for the next year to the state Department of Finance and Administration by May 1. Officials say the vetoes have hampered that planning process.

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