House helps curb 135-mile rule cuts

David Arkin

Things are looking up — by about $70,000 — for one of Eastern New Mexico University’s most important programs.
The House’s budget package, which was approved earlier this week, restores about $400,000 for the 135-mile program. That money would be dispersed among schools that utilize the program. ENMU’s share of that pie would be $70,000.
The program allows Texans who live within 135 miles of the state to pay New Mexico’s in-state tuition.
Gov. Bill Richardson has planned to cut about 15 percent of funds to the program for schools statewide that depend on it. Richardson’s proposal would have cut ENMU’s share of funds by $380,000.
Originally, the governor proposed $2 million in cuts to the program. However, the House’s budget cuts the program by $1.6 million.
While ENMU would like to see no cuts made to the program, officials are pleased with the House’s efforts.
“We are hoping for more help,” said ENMU President Steve Gamble. “We’re grateful for what the House did. But it’s still our position that the 135 should not be cut at all. It’s in the best interest of the state to fund the program in full.”
The budget package will next go to the Senate.
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the Senate would take a close look at funding for the 135-mile program.
“The money that the House provided for the program didn’t help Eastern enough,” he said.
But adding even more increases in spending to the budget will be difficult.
The House’s budget has state spending on public education and general government operations increasing by nearly $239 million, or 5.8 percent.
Ingle said he didn’t know if those education increases would stand.
“The House has some pretty strong increases in educational spending,” he said. “I doubt that the Senate will be able to leave that much in there.”
Richardson has publicly criticized parts of the House’s budget, claiming it would exceed projected revenues next year by $15 million. Representatives in the House say those increases would be covered by the state’s cash reserves.
Gamble remains hopeful the program will be adequately funded.
“There are still two more weeks to go and a whole lot of things are up there,” he said.
Gamble has said in the past that if the program is not funded at the level it was in the past, the university would still offer it, and just eat the cost.
Even though the university would cover the cost, the fact that the state may cut funding for the program can’t be a good thing, according to ENMU student body president Bob Cornelius.
“Some Texans that I have talked to are worried that they are going to lose it,” he said.
Cornelius said he knows many students from west Texas who attend school at ENMU.
“Our student body vice president is from west Texas,” he said. “Losing those students would be critical. Any students schools would lose would affect them tremendously.”
University officials have argued that the program is a need for the state because Texans who come to school in New Mexico spend more money here than it costs to educate them.