Martinez sets date for special session to deal with budget, other issues

Gov. Susana Martinez officially called the state Legislature into a special session beginning at noon on May 24 to draw up a spending spending plan for the coming fiscal year, among other issues. The special legislative session is set to occur roughly one week after the state Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case from the state Legislature challenging several of Martinez’s line-item vetoes on the budget passed earlier this year during the general session. Martinez’s actions included vetoes of the entire budgets for higher education and the state Legislature. Note: This is a breaking news story and more information may be added. In the proclamation, Martinez says there is “an essential and immediate need to enact a more responsible budget for the New Mexico higher education institutions and the legislative agencies that are provided for in state statute to assist New Mexico’s voluntary legislature for Fiscal Year 2018.”

Fiscal Year 2018 begins on July 1.

Uncertainty surrounds fire department funding

Many New Mexicans are fully aware that, with the summer, fire season is just around the corner. But James Canyon Fire Chief Bill Hanson goes further. “Fire season is here,” Hanson said. What is approaching, Hanson said, is the end of the fiscal year. And his volunteer fire department, located just east of Alamogordo, still doesn’t know how much money they’ll receive or when the money will arrive.

Santa Fe soda tax rejected after record-high turnout

Santa Fe voters delivered a decisive rejection of a proposed 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages to support early childhood education Tuesday in a special election. As of 10 pm Tuesday night with votes counted in all but one voting convenience center, the proposal was losing by a near-15 point margin. The vote capped the end of an intense, expensive and heated debate that saw nearly $1.9 million in direct spending overall from political action committees on both sides as of May 1. More than $1.2 million of that money was spent on opposition to the tax proposal, while a PAC in support of the tax spent roughly $685,000 to convince city residents to vote yes on the measure. This doesn’t include in-kind donations on each side of the vote.

Furloughs put unions, Martinez administration at odds

The state and labor unions representing workers in agencies possibly facing furloughs are clashing over the process of the potential forced days off. State Personnel Director Justin Najaka sent a letter Monday to Connie Derr, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 18 asking her to meet with him “to discuss the proposed statewide furlough plan.”

AFSCME represents employees at the Motor Vehicle Division, which Gov. Susana Gov. Susana Martinez has said could face the unpaid days off along with museums and state parks. Najaka cites state administrative code stating that the plan “identifying organizational units to be affected by the furlough may be presented to the State Personnel Board for approval or may otherwise be implemented.”

Najaka then listed this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as dates he could meet with Derr. He ended the letter by stating that if he didn’t hear from Derr soon, “the State will proceed with the implementation of the proposed statewide furlough plan.”

But in a letter sent to Najaka today in response, Derr said the meeting would be an empty gesture without adequate information showing a need for furloughs. “Without such data and narrative, we have reason to believe this will be merely a pro forma and substance free meeting,” Derr wrote, citing provisions in the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the state.

Legislature files lawsuit against Gov. Martinez

The New Mexico Legislature filed a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez Friday morning. The suit accuses Martinez of violating the state constitution when she vetoed the entirety of the budgets for the state Legislature and all higher education in New Mexico. Filed by the Legislative Council’s lawyer Tom Hnasko, the lawsuit calls the line-item veto of legislative funding an “attempt to eviscerate the ability of the other branch [of government] to perform its essential functions.”

In his filing, Hnsako asks the court to invalidate Martinez’s line-item vetoes of both the Legislature and higher education. “They’re suing the Governor because they want to raise taxes, and she’s the only one standing in their way,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in a statement. “It’s disappointing because it shows a refusal to compromise as this is nothing but an attempt to bully her by short-circuiting the legislative process before a special session.

New Mexicans will march for science on Saturday

On Wednesday evening, students, baby boomers, dogs, kids and organizers for the Albuquerque March for Science spread across a corner of Bataan Park, making signs, trying on yellow T-shirts and getting to know one another.  When they rally in downtown Albuquerque on Saturday, expect their protest signs to be clever. Or very nerdy. In the park, participants were drawing inspiration from Isaac Newton, Jane Goodall and Neil deGrasse Tyson. One sign read, “Einstein was a refugee.”

The nonpartisan event, which is planned for Washington, D.C. and hundreds of cities around the United States, is modeled on the Women’s March in January.

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Politicians turn out for anti-abortion press conference, fundraising

Anti-abortion advocates from across the country held a press conference in Albuquerque Wednesday morning denouncing New Mexico’s flagship university for its fetal tissue donation practices. Among those who spoke at the event were Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican and Washington D.C. attorney Catherine Glenn Foster. Blackburn, who chaired the controversial congressional Select Panel on Infant Rights, said she came to “join my colleague in the House [of Representatives] and those in New Mexico that have worked on the issue of life.”

The Select Panel released a report in January faulting the University of New Mexico for lacking protocols to “ensure the survival of infants who show signs of life following extraction from the uterus.” It also scrutinized UNM’s relationship with Southwest Women’s Options, an abortion provider that has donated fetal tissue to the university for scientific research. Supporters of abortion rights, as well as minority Democrats in the Select Panel, have dismissed the report and the panel’s investigation for using “McCarthy-era tactics” to conduct “an end-to-end attack on fetal tissue donation and women’s health care.”

Pearce contended that “the laws are clear” and that “we’re simply stating, ‘Do not violate the law.’”

The Select Panel made 15 criminal referrals for its research of abortion providers and educational institutions across the country, including to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. To date, Balderas has not acted on the referral to his office.

ABQ contractor aims to take on Heinrich for Senate

There’s still more than a year until New Mexicans vote in the primary election and general election for the U.S. Senate, but one local commercial building contractor said he’s already prepared to take on incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich. Mick Rich, owner of Mick Rich Contractors, said his plans for the Senate don’t go past two terms, or 12 years. “I am not moving to D.C.,” Rich told NM Political Report. “I want to make it clear, two terms and I’m done.”

A registered Republican, Rich speaks highly of former Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and said the six-term senator’s career is a “great road map” for serving New Mexico. “He made sure that our labs and bases had a mission,” Rich said.

Where mayoral candidates got campaign cash and how they spent it

Candidates for the Albuquerque mayoral election filed their campaign finance reports over the weekend. The financial reports shed some light on which privately-financed candidates have raised the most money and from whom they’re getting their contributions. Right now, 16 official candidates are running for the city’s top office, but only four have raised significantly large amounts of money. Brian Colón
Former Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman and one-time candidate for lieutenant governor Brian Colón leads the pack in fundraising. Most of his $350,000 haul came in large donations from business owners and executives.

ABQ widower denied social security benefits appeals decision

An Albuquerque man who was denied Social Security benefits from his deceased husband  intends to bring the issue to federal court. Anthony Gonzales* married his long-time partner Mark Johnson in 2013 in a mass public wedding in downtown Albuquerque. It was the first time same sex couples could legally marry in Bernalillo County**. Almost six months later, Johnson died from cancer. When Gonzales initially filed his claim for Johnson’s benefits, the Social Security Administration denied his request on the grounds that he and Johnson were married for less than nine months, the minimum time required to qualify for benefits.