By Bill Knief
The Legislative Finance Committee paid a visit to Taos last week as UNM-Taos hosted three days of interim public hearings out at the Klauer campus. The LFC is one of the most powerful committees in state government, making budgetary recommendations to the legislature for the funding of state government, higher education and public schools.
According to an LFC press release, the New Mexico budget is made up of about $5.5 billion in the general fund and almost 15 billion in total funds. Forty three percent of the general fund is allocated to public schools, 41 percent to state government and 16 percent to higher education. It is made up of eight state senators and eight representatives, and our Senator Carlos Cisneros, Representative Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales and Representative Nick L. Salazar are on it.
Particulars of the state’s economy are somber and projections for the near future are no better, but attendees seemed especially appreciative of the cordial Taos hospitality and first rate accommodations both in town and on the college campus.
“We were pleased to host the LFC on our campus,” Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill said. “Our citizen legislature is remarkable in the amount of dedication and responsibility they display in managing the state budget. They really understand the community college mission and the importance of the role it plays in rural areas throughout New Mexico, especially during this economic downturn. We were very happy be able to acknowledge them for their support of our efforts, and to have them come here and see what they have literally helped us build.”
But harsh economic realities dominated the hearings.
“We understand that we will be facing an additional 3.2 percent in budget cuts in September,” O’Neill announced, “and that there may be further cuts perhaps even before the end of the next fiscal year, June 30. We can expect to see continuing tuition increases to help offset those budget cuts, but as one of the top 25 fastest growing community colleges of its size in the country, our increasing enrollment numbers help somewhat to counter the cuts.”
Senator Cisneros remarked with a degree of understatement that it wasn’t one of the most rewarding years to serve on the committee. “Ordinarily it is one of the better positions that legislators strive for, but it has become a real challenge to us this year,” he said. “The rebound of our economy is very, very slow, and while the stimulus monies are holding us up at present, eventually we are going to have to pay back that money, and that will be an additional hit. We are looking at additional cuts or tax increases in January. Those are the only choices we’ve got, and none of them are very good.”
Representative Gonzales agreed. “This downturn is happening nation wide, and we are not exempt from it. We have to be very cautious. The impression is that the overall public is not supportive of enacting new taxes, and yet we see what Mayor Cordova and the town council have done. Things have to continue and there is more buy in if you have a sunset clause. That way the tax is for a specific purpose and it is not forever.
“The hospitality Taos and UNM-Taos have provided has just been fantastic. Truthfully, we don’t encounter that everywhere, but what a great time to be able to have a showcase for UNM-Taos. When the legislators leave here they will have a far better understanding of what’s happening in Taos and what Taos has done with the money that has been allocated.”
Fourteen year veteran Senator Linda Lopez also remarked that she always enjoys her visits to Taos. “Granted, the subject matter in dealing with reduced revenues and increased cuts is heavy this year, but Taos is another part of God’s country and it’s nice to get out of Santa Fe and be a part of our rural communities, which is where we need to be.”
Representative Henry “Kiki” Saavedra summed up the mixed feelings of legislators: “This is heaven. You guys are awfully lucky to live here. But I’ve been in the legislature 34 years and this has been the hardest and it’s going to get worse. To get out of this downturn I really don’t know what to do. Both candidates for governor say there will be no new taxes, so you don’t have any choice other than to cut funding, and somebody’s going to be hurting. Who do you hurt? There’s no way out of it.
“But there are long term solutions—if you are prepared to enact them.”
Monday, August 23 is the first day of fall semester at UNM-Taos, but you can still register for classes if you hurry. Go to our website at taos.unm.edu, drive out to Pueblo Hall on the Klauer campus or call 737-6200 for help in getting started.