Education tops legislative chat

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, speaks at the monthly Clovis Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday at Clovis Community College. (CNJ correspondent: Robert Standridge)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Much of Clovis’ leadership at the city and county level turned out Friday to hear legislators talk about the sometimes hectic 47th legislative session.

The Association of Commerce and Industry is touring the state, holding roundtable events to allow community members to hear first-hand from their state representatives what happened at the session.

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, said the session was steeped in social and philosophical debate, covering topics as varied and controversial as gay marriage, the legality of medicinal marijuana and parental notification of abortions.

For the most part, he said, the debate centered on the issues. However there was one exception to the rule.

“When the governor (Bill Richardson) weighed in on a bill, everything ‘partied’ up,” he said.

Being in the minority in the senate and house of representatives, that made things difficult for the mostly Republican delegation from eastern New Mexico, Harden said.

Education was also central at the session, as multiple delegates noted at Friday’s meeting. A number of vetoes from the budget in the final hours of the session rocked higher education statewide.

“Higher education really got beat up this year,” said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, at the roundtable meeting.

Because of Gov. Richardson’s vetoes, local institutions are having to come up with extra money in the upcoming school year to run operations. Tuition may go up by an average of 6 to 7 percent across the state to fill the financial gap, Ingle said.

“When they have to (raise tuition), it makes it real hard for the students go there,” Ingle said.

He added a tuition credit is also in place for schools, but it can only make up the difference if tuition is raised on students, thereby transferring much of the financial burden of these cuts to the students around the state.

Beverlee McClure, president of Clovis Community College, said Clovis Community College lost $839,000 in state funding that will have to be recouped through a possible increase in tuition.

“There is no institution in the state of New Mexico that is untouched,” she said. “And I know here at Clovis Community College, a lot of our infrastructure money was vetoed … and we have to find that money somewhere else.”

She said she had spoken with Richardson, but doesn’t expect to see a reversal.

Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, discussed the budget and the new money that was parced up between communities across the state.

Of the $300 million or so of new money, $210 million goes to education and Medicaid, he said. That leaves about $90 million for the rest of the budget, including all the capital outlay projects.

“That’s why we can stand up here with a straight face and say $300 million is a tight budget,” Moore said.

Other issues discussed at ACI:

• Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, discussed bills that would encourage film production in New Mexico and capital outlay moneys.

“We did do well in capital outlay for our community,” said.

• Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, discussed the controversial Pre-K initiative bill, which was funded with about $5 million of the budget. Her concern is whether the state can afford it right now.