Lawmakers to try to help NM lottery scholarship fund

Posted at: 10/15/2013 6:12 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

It’s now up to state lawmakers to try once again to come up with a plan to save New Mexico’s lottery scholarships for thousands of college students. Lawmakers have tried and failed to reach agreement time after time in recent years. If they don’t get it this time as many as 14,000 college students could be left high and dry.

Alysia Hernandez and Kayla Phillips are UNM students who probably wouldn’t be there with the lottery scholarships.

“It does mean that I wouldn’t be going to college,” said Phillips, who plans to enter nursing school at UNM. “I mean there’s no way I think I could take out a $40,000 loan each year. So it would be – I’ll find a job elsewhere!”

“It would be really different to come to college,” said Hernandez, who plans on being a teacher. “ I mean I could do it but it would just be more difficult and I don’t know what I’d do, actually. I would have to work fulltime.”

Saving the scholarships is now up to the legislature after a statewide task force studied the issue for months – and failed to reach agreement on any solution.

“It’s a crisis largely of our own making,” said State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat.  He said the legislature has stopped adequately funding higher education. “We’re saying, well, we know you need 100 percent of what you’ve asked for. We’ll give you 97 percent. Get the other 3 percent from tuition increases, and these increases are what’s eating up the lottery.”

Lawmakers expect to see a dozen or more lottery scholarship bills in the session that begins in mid-January. Trouble is it’s just a 30 day session, and there’s little time to form any consensus about which way to go. The core of the problem is that lottery ticket sales are flat, while those tuition costs just keep on constantly climbing.

If lawmakers can’t come up with a solution this time, the scholarship fund could wind up $27 million in the hole by the time the fall semester starts next year.