The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New Mexico Gov. Martinez vetoes higher education funding. All of it.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez delivers her victory speech on election night in Albuquerque on Nov. 4, 2014. (Andres Leighton/Associated Press)

Education funding in New Mexico is in trouble.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed higher education funding. All of it — and the legislature cannot override her veto.

And funding is so tight for K-12 education that Albuquerque has decided to eliminate sports programs in every middle school — at least for now — a move the governor quickly criticized.

The Republican governor’s veto came on a $6.1 billion spending bill for the next fiscal year, an action she took to protest legislative tax increases and spending. (She vetoed all funding for the legislature, too, starting on July 1.) She also complained in her veto message that the state Senate had not scheduled a hearing for nominations she had made to the Board of Regents, which oversees the public university system.

What does this mean for students? Nothing good. If the situation isn’t resolved — and an immediate fix looks unlikely — college students could face significant tuition increases at public universities, and institutions of higher education can’t prepare budgets for a school year that starts in several months.

Garrey Carruthers, chancellor of the New Mexico State University and a former Republican governor of the state, said in a statement:

“I’m concerned that NMSU and the state’s other universities now appear to be 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.”

Public funding for higher education in New Mexico has been shrinking for years. A 2015 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that inflation-adjusted funding in New Mexico since the 2008 recession had fallen 32.2 percent. That amounted to a loss of $4,383 per student, the third-largest drop among states nationwide.

But it’s not just higher education funding that is in trouble. The $6.1 billion spending plan Martinez vetoed called for increases to public schools, which rely almost entirely on state funding and which sustained a 2 percent state budget cut in the fall. Furthermore, money in school district reserves was recently used to help close a budget deficit, the Associated Press reported. School administrators have said further cuts could lead to drastic action, such as layoffs and/or a shorter school year.

A 2016 report by the budget and policy center found that New Mexico cut general school funding by nearly 14 percent between 2008 and 2014 — and that the state’s inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending was 7 percent lower in fiscal 2017 than it was in 2008.

Albuquerque school officials decided to cut sports programs from middle school unless the budget crisis is resolved to the benefit of public school funding. The cuts will save $580,000, the AP reported, and help avoid cuts in the classroom. School district spokeswoman Monica Armenta said that “if it wasn’t middle school sports, it might have been AP classes,” and that no programmatic loss would be welcome.

According to KRQE News 13, Martinez criticized the school district, saying, “It’s really disappointing they would make such a reckless decision.” She also said:

“Their priorities are distorted. We need to make a decision to put kids first. Especially when they’re savings is about $500,000 to $750,000, when they’re paying out a million dollars on, on public relations specialists and on lobbyists, a million dollars.”

School district officials rejected her criticism and said administrators were taking cuts as well.

How can the state get out of this budget stalemate?

Martinez said she wants to call a special legislative session soon to find solutions to the problem, but it is not clear when that would be or whether there is a real path to consensus on key issues. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in the legislature are planning to sue her over the veto.