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UNM revising budget after cuts

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Let the trimming begin.

The budget solvency bill signed by the governor after the recent special session cuts millions from the University of New Mexico and other higher education institutions throughout the state, said Barbara Damron, the chief government relations officer at UNM.

So UNM regents will have to approve a revised budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year that accounts for those cuts, which were made in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the financial impact that it has had on the state.

It will be a tough hit to absorb.

Damron said the state appropriation for UNM’s main campus will drop from $199 million to $186 million, or 6.5%.

State appropriations accounted for about 25% of the main campus’ previously approved operating budget. Student tuition and fees, by comparison, were about 19%.

Regents are scheduled to meet in committee meetings Tuesday to discuss the cuts in advance of a special meeting July 14 to approve a revised budget.

“We’re going to take the numbers (in the budget adjustment bill) and build it into a high-level budget,” said Teresa Costantinidis, UNM’s senior vice president for Finance and Administration. “Then, over the next weeks and months, we’ll be working in a collaborative function to decide how to implement the reductions. They are significant enough that it’s not something we can just decide in a couple weeks.”

Concerns raised throughout the special session about how the state was cutting money from colleges, Damron said.

For example, the budget solvency bill says that the state appropriation to higher education institutions for instruction and general operations will be reduced by about a third of what the institutions received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

“Our concern was that when we are replacing state appropriation money … with federal money to prevent and prepare for the coronavirus,” Damron said, “that takes away from our regular operational money.”

Such cuts, Damron said, don’t take into account that universities had planned to use the relief for pandemic-specific expenses, such as extra cleaning services or expanding remote instruction capabilities.

While signing the budget solvency bill, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham left $10 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program for college students in two-year programs. The Legislature had proposed cutting it to $5 million.

“Given the crisis that has enveloped us and the hard decisions that have had to be made, I’m proud that we have prudently, wisely used all our resources to maintain our forward trajectory, especially for education, while also keeping a clear eye on the future,” she said.

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