KRWG

In Depth: Martinez Rejects Balanced Budget, Will Recall Lawmakers

Mar 18, 2017

Credit Office of the Governor

  SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico state budget plan from lawmakers that would shore up spending on public schools and state agencies by raising taxes and fees was resoundingly rejected on Saturday by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, minutes after the adjournment of a 60-day legislative session.

Martinez chided lawmakers for wasting time by approving tax increases and a minimum wage increase that she does not support. She said she will call the Legislature back to Santa Fe soon to renegotiate, without specifying a date.

"I will never allow lawmakers to raise taxes on our families in order to bail out big government," Martinez said. "They actually overspent by putting in tax increases and claiming they balanced the budget, knowing I wasn't going to sign it."

The second-term Republican said she won't support hourly minimum wage increases from $7.50 to $9 or slightly more that were approved by Legislature because they hurt the state's business climate.

New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, expressed pride in the current budget package and urged the governor to reconsider. "We're still hopeful," he said.

Martinez left little room for doubt, warning that New Mexico's cash reserves are running low and evoking the possibility of a government shutdown that would involve furloughs, closing state museums and cutting short classroom calendars.

The state with the nation's highest unemployment rate is confronting a steady downturn in traditional revenue sources linked to energy prices, a struggling local economy and outward migration.

The governor and allied Republican lawmakers have pushed unsuccessfully for an overhaul of the state's gross-receipts tax that would lower rates while eliminating hundreds in tax credits, deductions and exemptions.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe said the approved budget safeguards spending on education, health care, economic development and other vital government services.

With no cash to spare, lawmakers searched beyond public works projects for ways to stimulate economic growth, approving bills designed to expand high-speed internet access and rooftop solar energy systems on state buildings through private and federal investments.

Humanitarian legislation also won bipartisan support, in bills designed to guard against bullying in public schools and to place limits on the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails.

Two major ethics reforms emerged from the session that had faltered repeatedly in the past. A proposal for an independent ethics commission will go before voters on the November 2018 ballot, while separate legislation would unveil sources of donations to independent political groups that spend unlimited amounts of money to influence New Mexico elections. But election reform proposals that had sought to expand voter registration opportunities and open major party primaries to unaffiliated voters fizzled.

Democrats won back control of the House in November elections. A more progressive agenda on social issues was on display in the session, with the approval of a ban on conversion therapy for minors — the practice of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation — and of regulations making it easier for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate.

Efforts to limit public spending on courts and jails provided momentum to a bill that gets rid of criminal penalties for relatively minor offenses such as littering and driving without a license. A bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana failed to pass.

The final days of the session were marked by political sparring over a string of vetoes, a conflict that could wind up in court.

Democratic leaders have invalidated five vetoes because they initially included no explanatory message as required under the state constitution, denying lawmakers the opportunity to address concerns with an amended bill.

"We don't have monarchs," said Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces on Friday. "We have the opportunity to override. But we can't do that if we don't know the reason" for vetoes.

The governor said Saturday that the New Mexico Constitution gives her the right to veto with a message that simply identifies the bill.

A Republican senator led an override attempt for a vetoed bill that would have given teachers more leeway to take sick leave without hurting their performance evaluations. It fell short of winning a needed two-thirds supermajority vote in the House on Friday.

Martinez said Saturday she still wants to strike a deal on comprehensive teacher evaluation reform, hinting at a compromise on sick leave. Her administration has closely linked evaluations to student test scores through rules that are not yet set in statute.

The governor has until April 7 to approve legislation or see it vetoed automatically. She can veto any and all provisions of the spending and revenue bills.

The Legislature overrode a budget veto by Gov. Gary Johnson in 2003.