January 26, 2018

Governor vetoes funds for committee in dispute over confirmation backlog

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Matthew Reichbach

Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill Thursday to pay for this year’s 30-day legislative session but vetoed funding for one particular Senate committee.

House Bill 1 provides $4.7 million for the session and another $16.1 million for a year-round staff of lawyers, economists, analysts and other aides.

But Martinez nixed $19,100 for the Senate Rules Committee, which is responsible for vetting the governor’s picks for Cabinet posts, university regents and a long list of other appointments in New Mexico government. Martinez accuses the committee of holding up confirmation hearings for dozens of her nominees.

The money she vetoed had been earmarked for the committee to meet in between regular sessions of the Legislature, though it held only one such meeting last year.

The veto is just the latest jab in an ongoing fight between the Republican governor and the committee’s chairwoman, Democrat Linda Lopez.

The Albuquerque legislator called earlier this week for the resignation of Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski over a comment he made about Manifest Destiny that drew outrage among Native American leaders.

A confirmation hearing has not yet been held for Ruszkowski, who was appointed in August after former education secretary Hanna Skandera stepped down. Lopez sent the governor a letter Thursday that said the committee had not received formal notice of Ruszkowski’s appointment.

But the Governor’s Office says the committee has a backlog of 85 nominees.

“New Mexicans expect us as leaders to work together and do our jobs,” Martinez said in a statement. “The Senate Rules Committee refuses to do so, and I’m not going to permit them to waste almost $20,000 of taxpayer money while they continue to drag their feet on their constitutional responsibility.”

Martinez is not the first governor to clash with the Senate Rules Committee.

Late in his term, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson accused the committee of holding up his nominees to The University of New Mexico Board of Regents.