Legislative Update

April 12, 2001

"Separating from Eastern New Mexico University"
(aka "Getting Away from Portales")
(or "Independence")

Whatever terms people may use, the idea of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell becoming a separate and independent entity has been a subject of interest lately.

I have taken no position on this issue. It is, at its core, largely a municipal and county issue. Like the 10-part referendum on public works projects which came before Roswell voters a couple of years ago (all 10 lost), I get to vote on election day along with every other interested citizen (assuming the steps are completed for placing the question on the ballot). And like that particular measure, it is probably appropriate for county commissioners and city councilors to campaign and politic for or against such a measure if they so choose. It is less clear that state legislators need to somehow choose sides and do the same.

Now, this whole issue did surface as a legislative matter during the recent session. But that was only because of a bill which sought to cut out a step or two from the normal process by which a local branch college may separate itself from the main campus.

Senate Bill 476 sought to eliminate legislative review and approval of the creation of a newly independent community college provided that "a majority of the qualified electors within the institution's district [vote]...in favor of independence..."

SB 476 passed the Senate 34-0 and then passed the House 58-3. However, late last Thursday night, April 5, Governor Johnson vetoed it. Here is what his veto message says:

"Honorable President and Members of the Senate:

"I have this day VETOED and am returning SENATE BILL 476, as amended, enacted by the Forty-Fifth Legislature, First Session, 2001.

"This bill would break the rule established only three years ago that no new public post-secondary educational institution, branch campus or off-campus instructional center shall be created except as specifically created by the Legislature. Operating a highly fractionated post- secondary system is not necessarily in the best interests of New Mexico.

"Until a real plan of action encompassing both the need for various kinds of post-secondary education and the best delivery system is agreed upon by all parties sig- nificantly affected, it is at best premature to encourage further splintering. The bill also halves the level of local support required, potentially throwing more of the burden for operating independent institutions on the general taxpayer.

"For these reasons, I cannot approve this bill."

Gary E. Johnson

The proponents of "independence" have vowed to fight on, and, as I understand it, are going ahead and following the regular processes of gathering local community college board support to continue the effort to separate. This will include placing the question on the ballot as soon as practicable. (The fact that Bill 476 did not go into law in no way precludes a public vote on this issue, nor does it stop the process of "going independent.")

I urge everyone who is interested in this issue to study it closely. Proponents claim that Roswell will always be a poor stepchild to Portales in the two-way relationship. Opponents point out that the local mill-levy will have to be doubled to support independence. Both sides have many other points and counterpoints that they will argue over the next several months.

After you have studied the issue, (or if you already believe you know all you need to know about the issue) let me know where you stand. I would appreciate hearing from you.