“You cannot cut your way to prosperity.”
– Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee
One of New Mexico’s leading fiscal pragmatists, Smith would be the first to say you can’t tax your way there, either. When revenues are way down and expenditures are way up, you need to leave every budget-balancing option on the playing/paying field.
That’s true for the state of New Mexico, which has seen oil and gas revenues decline as Medicaid costs have ballooned – and just finished a special legislative session focusing on cuts and one-time account sweeps, not increasing revenues, leaving a projected $87.2 million deficit for the current budget year.
And it’s true for the University of New Mexico athletics department.
Athletics is facing a $1.5 million deficit for fiscal 2016, has not made its budget in seven of the past nine years, and is now technically in accumulated debt to the university for $4.3 million. That doesn’t include the additional $140,000 the department has to cut after the special session mandated a 5 percent reduction for all universities ($15.5 million at UNM).
UNM’s athletics budget is as upside down as the state’s, with ticket revenue projections falling short by $975,000 and fundraising goals by $200,000, while team operations cost and event/game management expenses are exceeding projections by $1.2 million.
UNM has some one-time payments to help the bottom line, including $900,000 for playing at Rutgers in September and a scheduled PIT naming rights payment of $600,000 from WisePies in December. But those alone won’t fix the problem.
Yes, UNM has tried to get “more people to football games.” Yet so far this season, despite beer and wine sales and stepped-up marketing efforts, attendance has not improved at University Stadium. It’s actually down from last year, and fewer than 20,000 fans showed up for the homecoming game against San Jose State.
The athletics department would love to raise student fees dedicated to athletics, and it is true that UNM’s are under $80 a semester for athletics and generate less than six other programs in the Mountain West Conference. (Raising student fees is a precarious foundation to balance a budget on, considering the arguments too many students are too poor to pick up more of their tuition as the lottery scholarship program careers toward insolvency, and are too poor to live on campus even if that greatly increases their chances of academic success.) Perhaps the students should be given a chance to vote on the issue.
And there is simply no way to fill that growing gap without considering cuts – UNM has 22 varsity sports, the second highest number in the conference, and 24 athletics department employees with base salaries over $100,000.
Athletics director Paul Krebs once famously said that “our funding needs to equal our expectations.” That’s a beautiful dream in a robust economy, but given the fiscal track record of the state, university and department, UNM athletics might be better advised to match its needs to its funding.
And that means putting everything on the budget field.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.