Gov. Susana Martinez still hasn’t set a date for a special session, but just put another big item on the plate for the Legislature. Martinez said Thursday in addition to fixing the state budget, she wants legislators to act on tax reform. Currently, the budget has no money for higher education or the Legislature for the fiscal year beginning July 1 due to the governor’s line-item vetoes. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Martinez described an overhaul of the state’s tax code as “both a short-term and a long-term solution.”
Martinez announced the effort at the annual New Mexico Tax Research Institute Policy Conference in Albuquerque. Martinez has called for a quick special session in the past, saying she hopes legislators can come together in agreement before legislators convene.
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.
The latest New Mexico revenue projections appear to be convincing economists and state officials there is enough money to finance state government through June without resorting to government furloughs. “Based on the projections we see, yes, I think there are adequate funds,” Deputy state Treasurer Sam Collins told NM Political Report. New Mexico State University economics professor Jim Peach recently gave the Santa Fe New Mexican a similar answer. But Gov. Susana Martinez, who has been threatening furloughs for a month, had a different take. Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan warned that the state still may not have enough cash on hand to avoid furloughs and is calling on the state Legislature to fix this in a special session.
The New Mexico Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the lawsuit filed by the state Legislature against Gov. Susana Martinez over some line-item vetoes she made to the state budget. The oral arguments will take place May 15 at 9 a.m. Ahead of this, the court ordered the governor’s office to submit a response to the suit by May 5. The Legislature will be allowed to file a reply by May 10. Also, the court asked the New Mexico Council of University Presidents to file a brief as part of the lawsuit by May 5. At issues are two large line-item vetoes Martinez made to the budget, one cutting the entire higher education budget and the other cutting the entire budget of the Legislature.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of the entire higher education budget is getting national attention. First, the Washington Post covered the veto earlier this week. Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education weighed in with a story. Martinez has said the veto was necessary to balance the budget, even as she says the budget—including higher education funding—will be addressed in an upcoming special session. The Washington Post analysis said the veto meant “nothing good” for students, adding the impasse could lead to “significant tuition increases at public universities.”
The newspaper cited a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that found, when adjusted for inflation, higher education funding in New Mexico dropped by 32.2 percent since the Great Recession, the third-largest such drop in the nation.
State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.
The New Mexico Legislative Council voted to sue Gov. Susana Martinez over some of her controversial budget vetoes and is planning for an extremely rare extraordinary session. “Following the legal briefing given by attorneys to the Legislature, the Legislative Council has made the decision to officially begin the legal process necessary to ensure the state constitution is upheld,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen said in a statement. “As legislators we take our oath to support the constitution and the laws of the state seriously. A strong system of checks and balances is crucial to the success of our democracy.”
It’s unclear how individual members voted. Democrats hold a 9-7 advantage on the panel, which is made up of members of both chambers.
A progressive group is advocating for legislators to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of portions of the budget and an entire tax package. The odds of veto overrides are slim. The bills passed the Senate with wide, bipartisan support but passed more narrowly on party lines in the House. New Mexico Voices for Children urged supporters to contact their legislators to override the vetoes, citing the zeroing-out of the entire higher education budget. “New Mexico’s legislators delivered a balanced budget that funds critical services like education, health care, and public safety, and they came up with a responsible way to pay for it,” the email says.
Gov. Susana Martinez criticized the state Legislature heavily Monday, promising to reject a budget sent to her desk and call a special session to redo the budget. She also warned of impending furloughs across state government if a new budget can’t be passed soon. Martinez faulted lawmakers for raising taxes in their budget—specifically gas taxes, auto sales taxes and internet sales taxes—and contended that their plan is not balanced as required under state law. “They overspent our projected revenue by $157 million,” Martinez said at an Albuquerque luncheon sponsored by the state chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties. “Then they passed a separate bill with $350 million in tax increases and called it a day.”
Budgets that require separate legislation to balance them are not unique—Martinez signed such legislation during a special session last year.
Gov. Susana Martinez announced a hiring freeze Thursday, which goes into effect Saturday. The move, announced in a two-page memo to cabinet secretaries from State Personnel Director Justin Najaka, comes as Martinez indicated she will not sign the budget passed by legislators. “It is critical that Executive agencies take immediate action to control spending as we continue to refine the financial impact on state operations due to unprecedented budgetary challenges the State is currently experiencing,” Najaka wrote. Some positions will be exempted from the freeze, according to the memo, including wildland firefighters at the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, law enforcement officers and forensic scientists at the Department of Public Safety, tax collectors and auditors at the Taxation and Revenue Department and highway workers at the Department of Transportation. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered from pre-recession high
The order asks secretaries to cease recruitment for all other positions not listed in the memo and to notify applicants by March 31, 2017 that the advertisements have been closed.