Community Colleges Could Take A Big Hit

By | February 7, 2012

SANTA FE (Source: James Monteleone Albuquerque Journal, N.M.) — Community colleges and university branches across the state would lose about $45 million in campus building projects under one revised higher education bond recommendation being considered by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

The Legislat ive Finance Committee initially recommended each of New Mexico’s 18 community colleges and university branches get at least one campus construction project valued between $500,000 and $12 million included in the general obligation bond issue voters statewide will consider in November.

Those projects would be wiped from the bond issue under a proposal being considered by the Department of Finance and Administration, according to a DFA document acquired by the Journal that outlines one possible recommendation.

The proposal would hit Central New Mexico Community College hardest, eliminating a $12 million classroom renovation project on the college’s main campus in Albuquerque.

Voters in the last general election rejected the higher education bond issue. Eliminating the community and branch colleges would reduce the total size of the bond issue so that approval would not trigger a property tax increase — which was considered a possible factor in the defeat in 2010.

The recommendation under consideration would retain funding on main campuses of the state’s four-year schools — which do not have the local mill levy option for funding construction projects that community colleges do.

DFA declined to confirm that community colleges are on the chopping block for bond funding.

The proposal has not been completed, said agency spokesman Tim Korte. But cuts being considered are intended to reduce the total bond package to $134 million, an amount that will ensure voters do not face a tax increase if the bond passes.

The LFC is recommending about $180 million in new bonding, an amount that includes the $45 million in construction projects shared among the state’s two-year colleges.

A leading Senate Democrat agreed the package needs to be cut by about $45 million, but says there is a better way to do it.

In addition to higher-education institutions, the bonds also would benefit community libraries and senior citizen centers.

“These bonds are paid for with property taxes. Thus, it is clear that voters are concerned about the potential tax increases they face when new bonds are issued, and are also concerned about whether these funds are being used prudently,” Korte said in a statement Monday.

The 2010 general obligation bond election failed in part because the $155 million for higher education projects would have increased taxes by about $16 for the average homeowner. Korte said DFA’s final proposal will aim to ensure the bond doesn’t fail again.

Also, state universities like the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University main campuses warrant bond consideration because they do not receive other local tax funding for capital projects, he said. Under the DFA proposal, UNM and NMSU would receive a combined $41 million.

“This alternative source of funding (for community colleges) is one factor that must be weighed when developing the G.O. bond recommendation,” Korte said in the statement.

“There was a little bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look when we found out a recommendation did not include any of the two-year schools on it,” said New Mexico Junior College President Steve McCleery, chair of the state Independent Community College Association. “… The psychology of it may not make a lot of sense to me.”

CNM President Kathie Winograd said the bond issue is important to ensure the growing college has classroom space for all its students.

“We really need to be able to do the renovations that are on that bond in order to be in the situation where we can meet the needs of the 32 percent growth (since 2008) in our enrollment,” she said.

New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs stands to lose a $4.5 million for on-campus infrastructure improvements; Santa Fe Community College would lose about $1.5 million in bond funding intended for roofing replacements, according to the DFA document.

Eliminating two-year college improvement projects from 18 communities around the state also could threaten the full bond winning statewide election in November, because voters in those communities will have less interest in paying taxes to support projects in Albuquerque and Las Cruces when their local campuses have nothing to gain, said Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, sponsor of the legislative bond recommendation in Senate Bill 66.

Cisneros added that the bond package must be trimmed to about $134 million to ensure there isn’t a tax increase, but the final recommendation should better target cuts instead of eliminating all of the community college and university branches’ projects.

“We try to provide something in every community spread as far as we can with $130 million so that we engage the voters to come out and vote in favor of it and not have cause, if you will, to vote against it,” Cisneros said. “Clearly if you have nothing to gain from it, you’re not going to vote for it.”

Higher Education Department Secretary Jose Garcia declined to comment on the proposal. Budget

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©2012 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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Source: James Monteleone Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

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