SANTA FE, N.M. — Public colleges and universities in New Mexico are bracing for budget cuts as state lawmakers prepared to deal with a budget shortfall of up to $650 million.

Albuquerque Republican Rep. Jimmie Hall told The Santa Fe New Mexican (http://bit.ly/2bIoDzP ) that many lawmakers consider higher education one of the easiest areas to cut.

“I will be very blunt,” said Hall, the vice chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee. “Everybody who has talked to me — constituents, lobbyists, legislators and staff — has said, ‘Take it out of higher ed.’ “

New Mexico cut funding for colleges and universities by 2.4 percent — $16.5 million — in fiscal year 2016. Some universities have already responded to the cuts and prepared for the potential of more reductions by slashing their own budgets.

New Mexico State University reduced its budget by about $12.1 million through job cuts and eliminating at least one academic program. NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers said Thursday that other measures are being considered.

“It’s very dramatic here,” Carruthers told The New Mexican. “Everybody here is very concerned about it. Everybody understands why it is happening, but it is demoralizing, to say the least.”

Eastern New Mexico University President Steven Gamble said his school, which runs three campuses, is also trimming to prepare for more cuts.

“If we wait until January to start making the cuts, half of our budget is already spent, and most of the rest is already obligated,” Gamble said. “So we are making those cuts now.”

New Mexico lawmakers learned in late August that the state has an operating deficit that includes $223 million carried over from spending during the last fiscal year. The state also faces a projected $431 million shortfall for the 2017 budget, which is currently in its third month.

Lawmakers have said they will hold a special session to address the issue, but they haven’t yet announced a date.


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com