SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez’s plan to funnel $7.5 million into a state fund to recruit new college professors, scientists and researchers has the backing of several New Mexico university leaders.
However, a key Democratic state lawmaker noted that the Republican governor used her line-item veto authority this year to strike down a proposed $20 million appropriation into the same higher education endowment fund.
“I don’t know what changed her mind, but we had proposed putting money into that in this year’s budget,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee. “Maybe she’s finally come around.”
A Governor’s Office spokesman responded by pointing out that the governor’s proposal last week would change the higher education endowment fund’s structure and how money in the fund is used.
Instead of being divvied up by colleges based on a set formula, as has been the practice in the past, Martinez’s plan would allow the state’s universities to compete for competitive grants. Funding decisions would likely be made by a committee of top-ranking state officials, though details are still being worked out.
“Unlike the previous system of allocating endowment funding, this new approach will allow for greater targeting and review of proposed endowed chairs, ensuring that institutions receiving this money have matching funds in place to help recruit some of the best professors and researchers in the country,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.
Most of the recruited professors and researchers would be in key areas such as science, engineering, health and mathematics, he said.
Any approved grants from the fund would require the receiving university to provide matching funds, which is also a current requirement.
In her line-item veto message in April, the governor contended the proposed $20 million appropriation for the higher education fund would not have been a wise use of state resources, in part because there currently is little “accountability” for how the money is spent.
The higher education endowment fund has been inactive in recent years. It had a balance of roughly $83,000 as of last week, according to the Higher Education Department.
Meanwhile, Varela said, the Legislature is willing to consider Martinez’s plan to make structural changes to the endowment fund.
“We’re prepared to take a look at whatever the governor proposes,” he told the Journal .
The $7.5 million sought by the governor in her current proposal would be a one-time expenditure in next year’s state budget, according to the Governor’s Office.
A separate bill would make the structural changes to the higher education endowment fund.
Republican Reps. Larry Larrañaga of Albuquerque and Don Tripp of Socorro have agreed to sponsor that proposal during the coming 30-day legislative session, Knell said.
“If our goal is to improve the pipeline of innovation in New Mexico, this funding and these reforms are critical to that mission,” he said.
The governor’s initiative is one of several proposals she plans to push during the coming session to bolster high-tech research and development in New Mexico.
A separate plan would earmark $2 million for a fledgling technology research collaborative in hopes of stimulating new ideas and products.
The proposals were lauded last week by several university presidents, including University of New Mexico President Bob Frank and New Mexico Tech President Dan Lopez.
The 2014 legislative session begins Jan. 21.