Both the House and Senate recessed Thursday afternoon—without officially ending the special session. Now, the governor has three days to take action on four bills aimed at tax changes and reinstating funding to the Legislative branch and institutes of higher education. By recessing until Tuesday instead of adjourning, the House and Senate could still introduce new legislation to replace anything Gov. Susana Martinez might veto. Martinez, in an atypical statement, praised the Legislature for some of their work. “In a bipartisan manner, lawmakers passed my plan to put more funding toward cancer research and student financial aid, while at the same time forfeiting their pork projects and a small portion of their personal legislative retirement accounts to fill the budget hole — something I’ve urged them to do for months,” she said.
The House of Representatives passed three pieces of budget legislation Wednesday afternoon and evening with little debate. The first restored funding to higher education and the state Legislature. Earlier this year, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the entire budgets for both during the regular session, citing her opposition to tax increases. Two Republicans—state Reps. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho and Rod Montoya of Farmington—voiced concerns for the spending bill.
Attempts to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of money for higher education and the Legislature failed in the first hour of the special session. Both the House and Senate moved quickly to attempt the budget veto overrides, a rarity in New Mexico politics. In the House, state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, was the only Republican to join all Democrats in voting for the override. The final vote tally was 39-29; the measure needed two-thirds of lawmakers present, or 45 House members, to vote yes to pass. The motion failed in the House with no debate.
University of New Mexico Regent Jack Fortner resigned after nearly two decades in the position. The Farmington attorney submitted his resignation Tuesday, the day before a special legislative session in which Gov. Susana Martinez wants senators to confirm two new UNM regents. In a short resignation letter on his law firm’s letterhead, Fortner said he was “humbled and proud” to have been part of the UNM legacy. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve my alma mater for nearly twenty years, and to have been able to contribute in various leadership roles to work to make our state’s flagship university an even more nationally recognized center of academics, research, medicine, and athletics,” Fortner wrote. Martinez had nominated Fortner’s replacement, and another regent to replace Brad Hosmer, but the Senate Rules Committee never held confirmation hearings for either.
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.
State House Republicans unveiled a spending plan for the upcoming special legislative session that would transfer $12.5 million from the state Legislative Retirement Fund to the general fund to solve the New Mexico’s budget shortfall. Martinez announced the special session will begin Wednesday, May 24. GOP House leaders announced the plan publicly in a press release Tuesday, touting it as a solution to fix the state’s budget issues without raising taxes. “This plan covers New Mexico’s budget needs for the upcoming fiscal year and increases funding for cancer care as well as support for students working to obtain a college degree,” state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to adopt these proposals so we can resolve this budget impasse fairly and for the benefit of all New Mexicans.”
But the ranking lawmaker in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee questioned whether the Legislature could legally transfer money already invested the retirement fund.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Tuesday that he will not run for governor next year, ending months of speculation. Balderas, a Democrat, made the announcement in a statement to media where he highlighted work he has done in his first term as attorney general. “It has been an honor to serve New Mexico and I plan on running for re-election next year in order to continue to fight for our state,” he said. In addition to mentioning prosecuting “more than 100 cases of internet crimes against children and human trafficking” and recovering more than $6 million in Medicaid fraud cases in 2016, Balderas noted his more recent efforts against the Trump administration. “Since the November election, my office has a new responsibility—to stand up for New Mexico against President Trump,” Balderas said.
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.
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.
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.