Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
University of New Mexico students may be paying more for college next year due, in part, to an effort by the state to bump the pay of employees at public colleges.
On the eve of UNM’s Tuesday budget summit, Kate O’Neill, the Cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Higher Education Department, sent a letter to officials at universities and colleges throughout the state notifying them that all of their employees are to receive a 4% raise. A proposed budget UNM’s Board of Regents had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday would have given all faculty and staff at the state’s flagship university a 2% pay raise.
Regents postponed action on the budget so officials could address O’Neill’s letter.
Bumping pay raises from 2% to 4% at UNM would cost about $16.6 million – in both salary increases and associated benefits at all of its campuses, said UNM president Garnett Stokes during Tuesday’s budget meeting. She said funding an across-the-board raise of 4% would likely require a tuition increase.
“It is hard to imagine that tuition increases wouldn’t be a part of what we absolutely have to consider,” Stokes said. “We have a serious situation coming up.”
The Governor’s Office didn’t have an exact number on how much bigger pay raises would cost the university. But Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the office believes the cost of the raises would be quite a bit less than $16.6 million.
2% raises planned
In budget recommendations the UNM regents were going to consider, base tuition was going to stay the same next year but students were likely going to see an increase in fees, and some students were going to be assessed a tuition differential, which is additional tuition for students in certain programs. But the recommendations only called for employees to get a 2% pay bump.
“I am keenly aware of the challenges this may present your institutions and that difficult decisions will have to be made,” O’Neill said in the letter.
She didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. But the Governor’s Office did issue a statement.
“The governor and the Legislature agree that university employees deserve a raise,” Stelnicki said in an email. “The governor, in particular, wanted to make sure all university employees – including educators and support staff – saw a well-deserved, across-the-board increase for the first time in many years. The Legislature provided $23 million towards that goal.”
A state spending bill for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins in July, included a 4% raise for college employees across the state. Lawmakers had included language that would have allowed state colleges and universities to hand out raises averaging 4%, but Lujan Grisham used her line-item veto authority to delete the average pay raise concept.
“An ‘average’ increase would have created the potential for schools to inflate top administrative salaries while leaving other university staff out in the cold,” Stelnicki said.
O’Neill’s letter said the raise is for all employees. The Governor’s Office didn’t respond to questions about whether it would apply to high-ranking officials, such as Stokes or football coach Bob Davie, for instance.
UNM officials have previously said that state funding only covers employees whose salaries come from the university Instruction and General budget. At UNM’s main and health sciences campuses, there are about 3,200 regular employees paid through Instruction and General funding and 3,400 other regular employees, according to university records.
Traditionally, the university has tried to match raises for all employees. Last year, the state allocated enough funding to UNM for a 2% raise for faculty whose salaries were paid through Instruction and General funding. But instead, all UNM employees were given a 1% raise, Stokes said.
“The institution has always wanted to be fair to all of its employees and believed it had that kind of flexibility to provide raises across the campus,” Stokes told the Journal. “The change in the governor’s language and the letter from the Higher Education Department makes very clear the governor’s expectation that we would do an across-the-board of 4% for all employees, regardless of their funding source. That is a very clear direction that is different than anything we’ve practiced in the recent past.”
To create the budget proposals for regents, university officials formed a budget leadership team, which has been meeting since last fall to work out various budget scenarios. The team recommended that university employees receive a 2% raise.
“When we were presented with the 4% number, we immediately assumed it was not possible,” said Pamela Pyle, the faculty senate president and a member of the budget team. “I believe we do this out of respect for the university as a whole.”
Justin Bannister, a spokesman for New Mexico State University, said NMSU had planned on giving faculty and staff a 2% to 4% raise, depending on the circumstances of the employee. Making the raises 4% across the board creates about a $3.8 million budget hole that NMSU will have to address before its regents take a vote on the budget next month, he said.