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.
New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session doesn’t end until noon Saturday, but Gov. Susana Martinez already is preparing to call a special session because of ongoing budget problems, her staff said Friday night. “A special session could be called as soon as Monday or Tuesday,” said the governor’s spokesman, Chris Sanchez. Note: This post has been updated throughout to reflect news on likely special session. Keith Gardner, Martinez’s chief of staff, said a special session is almost a certainty. “If something doesn’t change dramatically from tonight, yes,” Gardner said at the Capitol on Friday night.
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.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was in office 15 years ago, the only time the Legislature overrode a governor’s veto of the entire state budget. That showdown pitted Republican Gov. Gary Johnson against a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Ingle, R-Portales, said he is confident the impasse this year over spending and tax increases between majority Democrats in the Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will not be a repeat of what happened in 2002. He said all parties agree on the priorities. Namely, the state needs to boost revenue to pay for education and day-to-day services included in the proposed $6.1 billion operating budget and stash away more in savings to help its credit rating.
Thursday marks the halfway point of the 2017 New Mexico Legislature’s 60-day run in Santa Fe. And while half the time is gone, perhaps 90 percent of the work remains. All-important debates over how to spend the public’s money, where to get it and how much to keep in reserve, are yet to be resolved. How much should be devoted to keeping the schools running? What kind of tax breaks are effective in stimulating a sputtering economy?
A framed newspaper clipping adorns the wall outside the office of New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth. The piece, dated May 25, 2002, serves as a reminder of the time when Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, who had vetoed 700 bills in six years, finally overplayed his hand. One of those vetoes was the $3.9 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year, a 1.1 percent increase over the previous year. Johnson, a fiscal hawk, said the plan didn’t go far enough to control the growth of Medicaid. With just a few weeks left in the fiscal year, the Democratic Party-controlled House and Senate called themselves back to Santa Fe for a special session to override the veto and keep the government operating.
Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday signed an $8.6 million bill to fund the legislative session and provide about 460 employees at the state Capitol with their paychecks this week. But Martinez also vetoed a portion of the bill that would have supplied emergency funding for the court system, prompting Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels to say there will be no money for jury trials beginning March 1. “We’re facing requests to dismiss serious criminal cases because we have not been able to provide speedy trials as our constitution requires,” he said. Martinez’s stinging message to lawmakers explaining her line-item veto on court funding demonstrates how partisan mudslinging has stalled even basic governance during this 60-day session. The funding bill for the legislative session typically is approved and signed as a routine matter, but New Mexico’s financial crisis means this session is anything but ordinary.