As New Mexico lawmakers look for solutions to keep the Lottery Scholarship fund solvent, it’s important they remember its history.
When Gov. Gary Johnson signed the New Mexico Lottery Act in 1995, it had two stated purposes:
• “(E)ntertainment of the public.”
• “(P)rovide the maximum amount of revenues, without imposing additional taxes or using other state revenues, for the purpose of providing tuition assistance to resident undergraduates at New Mexico post- secondary educational institutions.”
As the ensuing 19 years have reminded us, times change. Even the best laid plans don’t play out forever. It is time to adjust the scholarship parameters, but not the part about not imposing more taxes or using other state revenues.
Lawmakers tell us the lottery annually brings in around $40 million, yet need today under the original standards is $65 million.
Clearly something must change.
Gov. Susana Martinez already has pledged general fund money to keep the scholarship program afloat temporarily — apparently she either ignored or didn’t read the Act’s funding limits.
Even the most vocal big-government proponents must understand, however, that must be a one-time prop.
Taxpayers cannot continue to make up the differences.
We’ve heard several good ideas being floated to keep the program intact by raising eligibility requirements:
• Increasing the required per-semester credit hours from 12 to 15, proposed by Portales Sen. Stuart Ingle;
• Raising qualifying students’ grade-point average from 2.5 to 3.0.
We also would argue it is logical to provide a set number of dollars per student instead of covering “tuition,” which, for example, is higher at the University of New Mexico than at Eastern New Mexico University.
The language in the original Act does not require that tuition be covered in its entirety, but interpretation and application so far seems to favor more bucks rather than a set amount.
Former Gov. Johnson pointed out one fundamental flaw of the Act in a recent interview with New Mexico Watchdog reporter Rob Nikolewski:
“It’s given higher education in New Mexico immunity from competitive pricing. Tuition costs have risen because, hey, everyone’s on the lottery scholarship.”
Still, it’s better than most government programs because its revenues don’t come from all taxpayers’ wallets. They are provided only by those who choose to play the New Mexico lottery games.
New Mexico’s legislators need to keep it that way as they fix the shortfall problem.