As leaders of the UNM College Democrats and Republicans, we disagree about many things, but we both feel strongly about the importance of protecting the lottery scholarship program. For this reason, we urge the Legislature and governor to oppose any legislation that fails to put the interests of students first and maximize the amount of lottery revenues going to scholarships.
Every year for the past decade, students have received more money from the lottery scholarship program than they did in any year before 2008.
This is because, in 2007, the Legislature and governor passed a law guaranteeing that at least 30 percent of lottery revenues must go to the scholarship fund. This law has increased the dollars going to scholarships by about $9 million a year, according to research by the independent think tank Think New Mexico.
Most of those additional dollars came at the expense of the lottery’s outside vendors, multinational gaming corporations that contract with the lottery. Because their contracts were reduced to send more money to scholarships, these companies have hired lobbyists to try to repeal the 30 percent guarantee.
Last year, UNM students worked with Think New Mexico and our allies in the Legislature to transform the lottery vendors’ bill into one that put students first. Legislators added three amendments to the bill which made sure that students would receive at least $40 million a year – the lottery has delivered an average of $42 million a year to scholarships over the past decade; transferred unclaimed prize money – $2-3 million a year – to scholarships rather than returning it to the prize fund; and capped the lottery’s operating expenses at no more than 15 percent. The bill also had a sunset clause so that the 30 percent guarantee would come back automatically if the lottery ever failed to deliver at least $40 million to scholarships.
This year, Senate Bill 283 was introduced to repeal the 30 percent guarantee. We are glad that the bill phases in a cap on the lottery’s operating expenses, and grateful that the Senate Education Committee amended the bill to make sure that the scholarship fund will receive at least $40 million in lottery revenues next year, $40.5 million the year after and $41 million every year after that. If the lottery ever fails to make these minimum payments to the scholarship fund, the 30 percent guarantee will automatically return.