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.
A legislative session that began 60 days ago with calls for bipartisanship to balance the state’s quavering budget ended Saturday with bitterness, acrimony and a promise by Gov. Susana Martinez to bring lawmakers back for a special session to craft a new budget without any tax increases. It would be the third year in a row that Martinez has called lawmakers into a special session to address budget shortfalls and other financial issues, illustrating the continuing discord between the Republican governor and Democrats in the Legislature. This session’s disharmony was particularly notable because it included skirmishes between the governor and some lawmakers of her own party. “Many in the Legislature failed to do their jobs this session,” Martinez told reporters shortly after lawmakers adjourned. “They actually squandered 60 days and cowed to special interest groups.
Santa Fe Public Schools will have a half-day today, similar to a “snow day” for students. The projected high today is 70 degrees, so it isn’t for snow. Instead, it’s for a day of action for teachers, parents and students to show opposition to further school budget cuts. Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García announced the decision Wednesday afternoon. Related: Unexplained vetoes rile lawmakers
The governor’s office wasn’t happy, and a spokesman called the plan “despicable,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
State Sen. Carroll Leavell broke a personal streak lasting decades by voting Friday for a tax increase. The Republican from Jal, one of the most conservative parts of the state, joined all other members of the Senate Finance Committee in support of a budget for fiscal year 2018 that is balanced only because of new taxes and fees. “This is my 21st year and to my recollection it’s probably the first time” supporting a tax increase, he said after the vote. “We’ve run out of any place else to get money and if someone wants to disagree with me, they can show me how to get it.” Leavell’s comments came after the committee advanced two separate measures.
No one following the legislative session and debate over the state budget will be surprised that New Mexico still isn’t back to peak, pre-recession levels on tax revenue. New Mexico is one of 13 states that still haven’t reached the pre-recession levels of tax revenue collection. The findings come from ongoing reports by the Pew Charitable Trusts of the most recently-available tax revenue data from states. All numbers are adjusted for inflation. New Mexico is one of 32 states that didn’t collect as much tax revenue in the most recently-available data since the recession.