Budget bill revamped in effort to make college more affordable

Politics - Government

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The battle over the budget at the Roundhouse continues with just days left in the session. Senators made a big change Tuesday to try to save the “Opportunity Scholarship” that would help New Mexico high schoolers go to college for free.

However, it’s unclear if the measure will make it past both Houses.

The House didn’t provide any money for the scholarship fund in the budget they approved. Instead, Senators put some of that money back Tuesday.

“We plugged in the money on this side to move carefully into the future with what we had. We would’ve loved to put more money into it, but that portion was not funded at all on the House side,” said Sen. Smith of Deming.

This version of the budget made room for about $17 million for the “Opportunity Scholarship.” This is a trimmed-down version of what the governor was hoping for, but it would help cover tuition and fees left for college students after the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship and financial aid.

Free college tuition was a big promise from Governor Lujan Grisham as were teacher raises. Senators did still allow a raise, but 4% instead of 5%. Lawmakers were also cautious about giving the bigger boost because the state’s strongest revenue source, oil, will not always be a sure thing.

“They have to understand that as much as I’d like to give them a 10 percent raise, we have to be responsible going forward that at some point, we might have a reduction in oil if things don’t go well,” said Sen. Gary Kernan of Hobbs.

Once this revised budget is approved on the Senate floor, it will have to be sent back over to the House for final approval.

The Speaker of the House said there will likely be a big problem with the changes the Senate made. If the two chambers can’t agree on the final budget by noon on Thursday, the governor may have to call a special session.

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