April 13, 2017

Legislators to sue Martinez over vetoes


New Mexico State Senate.

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.

The panel voted to sue over Martinez’s line-item vetoing of the entire legislative budget and the entire higher education budget. They will also sue over 10 bills the governor vetoed without explanation during the session. Democrats argued during the session that any of the governor’s vetoes without written explanations were invalid. The state constitution requires all vetoes, except for pocket vetoes, to include an explanation.

One of those bills legislators say Martinez failed to validly veto would allow research on industrial hemp.

But it’s the vetoes of all higher education funding and all funding for the Legislature that could see the biggest court battles.

“This just demonstrates that the Senate is more interested in jamming through one of the largest tax increases in state history than coming together in a bipartisan way to find compromise. This is something that we could solve during a special session, but they would rather take the same ‘my way or the highway’ approach as they did when they tried raising taxes while refusing to come to the table to negotiate,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said in a statement. “This isn’t the way government works. The governor remains disappointed that they continue to dig their heels into the sand and shirk their responsibility to do the good work of the people. Regardless, the governor is going to continue to try to work together to find common ground and solve this budget crisis.”

Martinez has lost battles over line-item vetoes before. One came in her first year when she struck the “1” from a $150,000 appropriation to try to reduce it to $50,000.

The court ruled that the full $150,000 for the state’s low-income housing program would be appropriated.

There has only been one extraordinary session in New Mexico history. These are similar to special sessions, but they are called by legislators rather than the governor.

To do so, three-fifths of House of Representatives members and three-fifths of Senate members must sign onto the petition.

Legislators did so in 2002 after then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed the state budget. At the time, legislators created a new budget, which Johnson again vetoed, but they overrode his veto.

Martinez has said she would call legislators in for a special session, but has not said when that would occur.

Earlier Thursday, the Associated Press reported someone from the governor’s office texted Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, asking to meet.

Update: Added statement by a spokesman for the governor.