April 21, 2017

Legislature files lawsuit against Gov. Martinez

Andy Lyman

Susana Martinez during the 2016 State of the State Address.

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. Regardless, the Governor will keep fighting for our families.”

The lawsuit also accuses Martinez of cutting higher education money because the state Senate did not confirm her two choices for University of New Mexico regents.

“Governor Martinez, through an executive message, attempted to conjoin and pre-condition executive approval of all higher education by requiring Senate confirmation of the regents she had nominated,” the lawsuit read.

Besides Martinez, the lawsuit also names New Mexico Department of Finance Secretary Dorothy “Duffy” Rodriguez as a respondent.

The Senate Democrats released a statement from President Pro Tem and Legislative Council co-Chair Mary Kay Papen.

“Today’s action is important to check the power of the executive and protect against any overreach on behalf of those we represent,” Papen said in her statement. “The Governor’s political ideology is not above the law.”

“The Governor’s unconstitutional vetoes of all funding for our colleges and universities have added unneeded stress to students who attend these schools and families who hope to send their children to college in New Mexico,” Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said in a statement. “Her vetoes also threaten our prosperity because our colleges help drive our economy. We have heard from families across the state who are saying that they do not want the Governor to use our education system as a political pawn.”

The lawsuit comes after the 16-member Legislative Council voted earlier this month to take the governor to court. The vote took place behind closed doors and the Legislative Council declined to say who voted for the lawsuit.

In the same meeting, the Legislative Council voted to allow the council’s director to begin to collect signatures in the event legislators seek an extraordinary session. This would require three-fifths of the members in each chamber. If they are able to do so, Legislators would call themselves into a session much like a special session.

Martinez’s vetoes of higher education also got national attention earlier this week.

Update: Added statements by Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and a spokesman for the governor.

Correction: This story originally said the Legislative Council voted to seek an extraordinary session. The council actually voted to allow the director to begin collecting signatures in the event legislators choose to pursue an extraordinary session.

Legislature v. Martinez lawsuit by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd