The 2008 legislative session

By Bill Knief

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The outcome of the legislative session is always up for grabs until the final gavel, but on the topic of support for UNM-Taos, the overall mood of Senator Carlos Cisneros, Representative Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales and UNM-Taos executive director Dr. Kate O’Neill could best be characterized as “cautiously optimistic.”

One big step was taken Friday January 25, when Senator Cisneros successfully shepherded the 3.3 million dollar appropriation for UNM-Taos in the General Obligation Bond through the Senate Finance Committee.

“I am very hopeful that we can get this much-needed revenue for UNM-Taos, and I am proud to be the bill’s sponsor,” the senator said. “So far we seem to have a green light in both the Senate and the House. Of course we have to be concerned about the slowdown of the economy, but it doesn’t seem to have had as severe an impact on us as it has on some of our neighboring states. I am also sponsoring a bill to provide an additional $300,000.00 for workforce development.”

Over on the House side, Representative Gonzales concurred. “So far we’re holding our own, and there haven’t been any big declines in state revenues. One thing that has helped us, I think, is the package of strong tax incentives we’ve created in years past to lure business for economic development, especially in film and renewable energy. The 3.3 million dollar allocation in the GO Bond feels strong because every year we get more exposure as we go forward with UNM-Taos.

“Incidentally, we are also looking at the possibility of expanding the kindergarten through 12th grade public transportation system to the college level. The demand is certainly there, and much of the infrastructure is already in place, and San Juan College is in support of the concept. What if some day students from Penasco could take school busses down to Taos to take college courses?”

“We have some very strong advocates in Representative Gonzales and Senator Cisneros,” maintains Dr. O’Neill. “They understand the importance of education and workforce development for northern New Mexico and the whole Enchanted Circle region, and we’re very grateful to them for championing our educational initiatives at the roundhouse.

“Representative Gonzales introduced HB196, the House version of the General Obligation Bond bill, which contains our request for UNM-Taos funding, and we’ll just hope to hold onto that throughout the session. Then, once it is passed by the legislature, the voters will need to approve it next November. Assuming that happens, the bonds will be sold and we’ll be issued the resources to finish the classroom building that is currently shelled—on hold and waiting to be completed. That completion could come as soon as the fall of 2009, and we are really excited about that.

“In addition to completing the classrooms,” Dr. O’Neill went on, “we are working on getting funding to continue our nursing program in collaboration with the UNM College of Nursing. We now have a cohort of eight students we hope to be able to fund for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Those students will do their clinical internships at Holy Cross Hospital. We are hoping to get people from this area who will get trained in this area and stay in this area to help with the nursing shortage in nursing and allied health fields.

“The third area we are looking for funding in is workforce development. We’ve put together programs for various entities: Holy Cross Hospital, Town of Taos, Molycorp, some small businesses. We offer courses in everything from medical billing to diesel mechanic certification. Now we’re looking for resources to work with the local workforce training center and really make sure we get those course offerings out to the community and get people the skills they need for the jobs that we have in this area. I thank Senator Cisneros for understanding very well what the implications are of having resources to really improve our workforce development capabilities.”

Finally, Dr.O’Neill had this to say: “We are fortunate because education is so important to our legislators. I think UNM-Taos as a young school really has a challenge to communicate how well we’re doing, how fast we’re growing, and how important it is that we have facilities that meet the needs of the community.”

Another source of pride around the roundhouse last week: two extraordinary UNM-Taos scholars were honored as inductees in Phi Theta Kappa, the community college honor society. Based on their contributions to their communities and their academic accomplishments, well deserving New Mexico All State Scholars from UNM-Taos are: Lisa Maestas and Enselma Vasquez.

One last note: don’t forget to stop by the Youth and Family Center at 5:30 this evening for a reception for Loretta DeLong. It’s the community’s first real opportunity to get to know their new superintendent of schools.

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