Lawmakers work to fix hemorrhaging lottery scholarship program

Posted at: 02/22/2013 5:39 PM
Updated at: 02/22/2013 9:00 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The 60-day session of the state legislature is past the halfway mark, and lawmakers are still not in agreement on one of the most important items of business on the table - plugging the money hemorrhage in the state lottery scholarship program that keeps thousands of New Mexico students in college.

It's going broke, fast.

In fact, the program will be $5 million in the red by June, analysts say. And unless lawmakers do something now, thousands of kids will be out of luck - and out of school.

"We're a victim of our own success," said Speaker of the House Ken Martinez. "It's such a great program, to allow New Mexico young adults to go to college and have it paid for. The problem is that we have more and more going to college, which is important, and we also have higher and higher tuitions."

We also have declining sales of lottery tickets - negative cash flow for the scholarships.

Lawmakers are looking over five proposals aimed at fixing the problem, but there's no real strong support and no real consensus developing for any of them at this point.

Rep. Jim Smith, an Albuquerque Republican, has a measure that just might be the one.

"The UNM students came to me and said they wanted to solve the problem with some of their ideas," Smith said. "They came up with the idea of upping the grade point average, so it takes about a 2.7 to get the lottery scholarship."

That's up from the current grade point average of 2.5. It would reduce the number of eligible students, and go a long way toward fixing the problem.

Smith's bill would also hike the number of credit hours from 12 to 15 per semester.

It has bipartisan support, and is co-sponsored on the Senate side by Albuquerque Democrat Tim Keller. The measure may have the legs to make it all the way through.