A senior Democratic lawmaker says Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary-designate of the state Public Education Department, has not consented to a background check, preventing the Senate from holding his confirmation hearing. “We require all teachers and administrators and others in the [education] field who deal with children in our public schools to be cleared, and we are still unable to do that with Mr. Ruszkowski,” Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said Monday in a statement. “He is operating as Cabinet secretary without authority to do so.” Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, appointed Ruszkowski last summer. But Lopez said the Martinez administration did not send formal notice to the Senate, which the state constitution requires within 30 days of appointment.
The Legislature asked a state district court Monday to invalidate 10 vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez of bills state lawmakers passed during this year’s regular session. The petition filed with the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe came after the Legislative Council voted to approve it earlier this year. A spokesman for the governor said the legal challenge is “another example of out-of-touch Santa Fe trial lawyers wasting time and taxpayer money going to court when they don’t get what they want.”
Democrats say Martinez violated the state constitution by not explaining why she vetoed the 10 bills. The complaint describes the two categories of vetoes: Half of the bills were vetoed within three days after being presented to the governor. But the governor did not include her “objections” as required by the state constitution.
Gov. Susana Martinez met with legislative leaders Friday morning to discuss a budget fix ahead of the upcoming special session scheduled to start next Wednesday. Martinez’s spokesman, in a statement, called the meeting “productive” and said the governor is confident her office would come to an agreement on funding the coming fiscal year, “including funding for higher education.”
“The Governor reiterated that she will not support standalone tax increases, but is hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan path forward on tax reform,” spokesman Michael Lonergan said. The statement potentially leaves room for tax increases as a part of a comprehensive tax overhaul similar to what state Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, spearheaded during the recent general legislative session. Martinez last week told the Santa Fe New Mexican that she would support reinstating the food tax as part of such a reform—a marked contrast from even just two months ago when she vowed to “definitely veto every tax increase on my desk.”
State House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, however, told NM Political Report that “there is still tremendous uncertainty about what sort of tax reform proposal is going to be offered during the [special] session.”
Egolf described the meeting with Martinez as “a first crack” at agreeing to a budget solution. “It wasn’t really a horse trading kind of thing,” Egolf said.
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 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.
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.
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.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s recently announced changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system came from discussions between a panel of New Mexico educators and state Public Education Department officials. This is according to Chris Eide, the national director of state policy, advocacy and partnerships with Teach Plus. The Boston-based nonprofit, which focuses on teacher-driven education reform, launched an initiative in New Mexico last year to look at teacher evaluations and teacher preparation. Over the weekend, Martinez accepted two recommendations from the New Mexico Teach Plus task force. One allows teachers to use up to six absences without affecting the attendance portion of their state teacher evaluations.
Judges may have to decide whether five bills that Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed during the last week will actually become law. Democratic lawmakers say the Republican governor did not properly veto the legislation, which includes a bill to allow research on industrial hemp in New Mexico, and they maintain the measures will become law after all. On Friday, the deputy to Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said her office would not add the bills to the law books unless instructed by a court. “Whether the governor met her constitutional obligation by vetoing these five bills in the manner in which she did is a question that should be answered by our court system,” Deputy Secretary of State John Blair said in an email. “This office will swiftly chapter these bills if and when we receive guidance from the New Mexico courts to do so,” he added, referring to the secretary of state’s role of assigning code numbers to new laws.
The state Senate’s extraordinary effort to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez has landed with a thud in the House of Representatives. Two days after senators voted overwhelmingly to save a bill that would have allowed teachers to use more sick days without being penalized in their performance evaluation, no one has stepped forward in the House to call for a similar override vote. Note: This piece has been updated throughout. Majority Democrats are looking to Republicans who co-sponsored the bill to push for the override in the House. Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill
A two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House is needed to override a veto.