NM Supreme Court slaps down legislative suit over vetoes

The New Mexico Supreme Court denied the Legislature’s lawsuit against  Gov. Susana Martinez for her line-item budget vetoes, saying that the case is “not ripe for review.”

Their denial was announced Thursday morning, a day after the Legislature filed its response to the governor’s filing. All five members of the Supreme Court concurred with the order. Now, legislators and the governor will have to battle over the vetoes in a special legislative session, which Martinez called to begin on May 24. Note: This is a breaking news story and more information will be added as it comes in. The Legislature sued over line-item vetoes of the entire legislative and higher education budgets.

LCS argues guv’s vetoes ‘disturb the balance of power’ in state government

Attorneys for the Legislative Council Service urged the state Supreme Court to reject Gov. Susana Martinez’s large line-item vetoes in the state budgets in a Wednesday court filing. In the latest legal argument from LCS involving its lawsuit against Martinez, a response to arguments submitted last week from her legal camp, attorneys Jane Yohalem and Michael Browde argued that Martinez’s vetoes last month violate the state constitution. Specifically, the argued that a provision that bars the governor from re-writing the annual bill the Legislature passes to fund state government. Martinez vetoed the entire budgets for the state Legislature and the state Higher Education Department. The large vetoes, the attorneys added, violate the separation of powers between the Legislature and governor established in the state constitution.

Guv open to bringing back food tax as part of tax overhaul

Gov. Susana Martinez would be willing to sign a food tax into law if it were part of a larger tax reform. The governor told media this after a speech at the Economic Forum of Albuquerque at the Hotel Albuquerque Wednesday. Purchases of food are exempt from the state’s gross receipts tax and have been since 2004. Those who support the exemption say the tax has a larger impact on poor New Mexicans, since food represents a higher percentage of their spending. Martinez did say she would oppose the food tax as a “standalone piece,” according to both the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Some Republican legislators back Martinez in veto lawsuit

Some House and Senate Republicans say that if the New Mexico Supreme Court overturns line-item vetoes by the governor the court would disenfranchise members of the minority caucuses in each chamber. Last month, the New Mexico Legislature filed a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez, accusing her of violating the state constitution when she vetoed the entirety of the budgets for the state Legislature and all higher education in New Mexico. In a court filing, attorneys for the Republican members of the Legislature say they wish to file the amicus brief because they disagree with the lawsuit filed after approval by the Legislative Council.  That lawsuit says Martinez’s vetoes should be overturned. The Republicans—eight members of the Senate and 23 members of the House—say the legislative lawsuit seeks “to disenfranchise the minority caucus” and that the question raised by the lawsuit is a political issue, not a legal one.

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.

Martinez wants Legislature to take on tax reform in special session

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.

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’s attorney withdraws from veto case over ‘perceived conflict of interest’

The Legislative Council’s attorney in the lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez is stepping down from the case, just a day after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on the case. The case is challenging Martinez’s line-item vetoes to a state budget passed last month by the state Legislature. Late Monday, Thomas Hnasko filed a motion to withdraw from the case, which lists Martinez and Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Duffy Rodriguez as defendants. Hnasko is recusing himself because of a “perceived conflict of interest” and a request from the Risk Management Division of the state General Services Department. The motion says other attorneys at Hnasko’s firm, Hinkle Shanor LLP, “have been retained by [Risk Management] to defend designated state entities and employees against monetary damage and equitable claims asserted against those entities and employees.”

In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said they believed there was no conflict.

Despite favorable economic forecast, Guv’s office says furloughs still on the table

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.

Date set for oral arguments in Legislature’s suit against Guv

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.