March 27, 2017

Martinez threatens furloughs, promises special session

Joey Peters

Gov. Susana Martinez speaks to reporters at the Albuquerque Marriott on March 27, 2017.

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.

Martinez also said the Legislature left “our cash reserves extremely low.” She said her office’s budget proposal “offered more than $300 million in options” for the Legislature to choose from to balance the state budget without raising taxes.

“I went big,” she said during her speech multiple times. “The Legislature went small.”

In a short question and answer session with reporters afterwards, Martinez said furloughs across state government will start next month unless a new deal can be made. This is because, she contended, the state doesn’t have enough cash on hand to make it through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Martinez ordered a hiring freeze for state employees last week, citing budget issues.

Though lawmakers passed a solvency measure to get through the rest of the fiscal year that Martinez signed, she said that $63 million in “pork projects” in the Legislature’s fiscal year 2018 budget that could have instead gone “directly into cash balance for us” will cause a state government shutdown.

It’s a position that she’s been at odds with lawmakers about. A report from earlier this month estimated that the state will end the fiscal year with $77 million, which the Martinez administration has said is a slim margin that could quickly drop in the red if revenues decline more than projected.

That means the state could start issuing “hot checks”—or money it doesn’t have—to pay for basic government operations.

Martinez blamed any future government shutdown on the Legislature and emphasized that she doesn’t want to do it herself.

“I know what it’s like for a mother of three or a single mom to be missing a pay period,” Martinez told reporters. “That hits hard at home.”

Martinez specially mentioned furloughs may start at state museums and parks.

Some state jobs could be exempt from furloughs. Martinez listed law enforcement, state hospital workers and child abuse caseworkers at the Children, Youth and Families Department as examples.

Leadership in the state state Senate, however, argued all of this could be avoided if Martinez simply signs the budget package that’s currently sitting at her desk.

“She should follow the leadership of the majority of Republicans in the Senate who joined their Democratic colleagues in recognizing that acting responsibly means raising the recurring revenue necessary to prevent further cuts to public education, healthcare, and public safety programs,” state Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said in a prepared statement sent after Martinez’s speech. “Alternately, she can continue to jeopardize our state’s credit rating and lead our state towards the government shutdown she seems determined to make a reality.”

Martinez also hinted that she would put other issues on the call for legislators to discuss and debate during a future special session. Most of the legislators do not work on the budget during sessions, she contended. Legislative staffers and governor’s office staffers “and a few legislators” actually work on the budget while “98 percent” of state lawmakers don’t, Martinez argued.

“There’s plenty of time to deal with important issues that they did not deal with,” she told NM Political Report.

Martinez added that she hadn’t decided what issues she would add to the call, but did mention a bill making violent crimes against social workers felonies would be one of them.

In the meantime, she vowed to “definitely veto every tax increase on my desk,” which she characterized as fulfilling her campaign promises to never raise taxes.

Martinez even blamed the Legislature’s passage of tax increases on the recent loss of 2,000 jobs that would have come to Albuquerque. She would not, however, say which companies or even line of work these jobs would have come from.

“I can’t say which industries,” Martinez told NM Political Report. “I’m under a nondisclosure agreement with them.”