Reforming The Lottery: Our Voices Matter

Think New Mexico News:
The Lottery Scholarship went through quite the journey this past legislative session and provided a lesson in negotiation for student leaders of ASNNMC and other New Mexico universities.
In 2008, the New Mexico legislature passed a law that guaranteed at least 30 percent of lottery revenues to college scholarships. Prior to that law, the Lottery was only delivering about 23 percent of all their revenues to scholarships. For the past three years the Lottery and lobbyists for the multinational gaming companies that contract with the Lottery have unsuccessfully pushed to repeal the 30 percent guarantee. This year, the NM Lottery proposed a $38 million floor to replace the 30 percent guarantee.
The Associated Students of Northern New Mexico College (ASNNMC), along with other student governments bodies, rightfully opposed the bill, noting that the scholarship fund has received an average of $42 million a year for the past decade under the 30% guarantee.
In response to students’ disapproval, the Lottery promised to amend the bill to deliver unclaimed prize money to the scholarship fund, a reform students had been advocating for many years.
During private talks with Rep. Jim Smith, the sponsor of the bill, and the lobbyists representing the Lottery’s vendors, the students were led to believe the unclaimed prizes, which generally range from $1 million to $3 million per year, would be added to the $38 million floor.
The language of the amendment was misleading. Students jumped too soon to support it, not recognizing that the bill’s language counted the unclaimed prize money toward the $38 million floor, rather than being added on top of it. This $38 million floor gave the students less than they had received in nine of the last ten years.
Because of the students’ confusion and their consequential support for the bill, the poorly drafted bill made its way successfully through House committees. The fact that the bill moved forward proved students have a powerful voice. House legislators supported the bill, even though they had doubts, because they believed students supported it.
Thankfully, Think New Mexico, a statewide, independent think tank, which had drafted and pushed for the 30% guarantee a decade ago, intervened.
Think New Mexico quickly realized that the bill was a worse deal for students than the status quo. They drafted three amendments to add on the House floor, which transformed the bill from a special interest bill to a students first bill.
The three amendments increased the floor to $40 million a year, made sure that students would receive unclaimed prize money on top of that floor, and capped the lottery’s operating expenses at no more than 15 percent. This last amendment may have been the most important because it insured that the Lottery could not take scholarship money and use it to increase spending on their own salaries, administration, and to make contracts for their vendors even more lucrative.
Think New Mexico recruited three excellent sponsors who persuaded House members to adopt the three amendments. The sponsors were: Jason Harper (R. Rio Rancho), Matt McQueen (D. Santa Fe), and Alonzo Baldonado (R. Belen).
Their amendments transformed the bill into one that put the interests of the students first by ensuring that the scholarship fund would receive at least as much money as it had in recent years.
The successful adoption of these amendments prove that we, students, can successfully advocate more for the scholarship fund. It’s a matter of carefully understanding the nuances of bills before offering our support, uniting with other public universities, and demanding the legislators vote in accordance with our interests.
ASNNMC, a leading student government in the state, should aspire to pass legislation similar to the amended bill that passed the House this past session. Without a doubt it will be a challenging fight, but students have proved their political power.
ASNNMC, please don’t settle for less than students deserve. Your voice has great weight at the state capitol.