May 8, 2017

Gov. Martinez asks high court to dismiss veto case

Andy Lyman

Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

Attorneys for Gov. Susana Martinez argued to the New Mexico Supreme Court that a legal challenge of her sweeping line-item budget vetoes should be dismissed. At a minimum, her lawyers argued last week, the case should be postponed until an upcoming special legislative session is complete.

In response to a motion filed by the Legislative Council last month, Martinez’s lawyer Paul Kennedy argued that the governor did not exceed her power as governor when she vetoed the entire budgets for the Legislature and higher education.

Kennedy, who has a high dollar contract with Martinez’s office, challenged the Legislature’s notion that the governor cannot legally veto two entire budgets.

Related story: Gov’s office cites complex questions from reporters, busy schedule as defense in lawsuit

“The question presented is whether, during the bill-review period following a regular session of the Legislature, the Governor can veto items pertaining to the Legislature and state educational institutions in a general appropriations bill for the subsequent fiscal year without violating the principle of separation of powers,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy then responded to his own question.

“The answer is: of course she can,” he wrote.

Kennedy argued that the Legislature filed a court case too quickly when Martinez said she would call a special session to address the issue of funding the two budgets.

Related story: Martinez sets date for special session to deal with budget, other issues

Kennedy, who has also served two different appointments on the state Supreme Court, including once by Martinez, also criticized the Legislature for inferring that Martinez’s vetoes were an attempt to completely defund a branch of government and all colleges in the state.

“Piling one unsupported inference upon another, the Council then seeks to impose a duty on this court to bypass the special session and judicially override the Governor’s item vetoes,” Kennedy wrote.

Also echoing statements Martinez and staffers have made since the session ended, Kennedy accused the Democratic-controlled Legislature of trying to get a “free pass to shirk its own legislative duties,” like passing a balanced budget.

Kennedy also pointed to a 2011 New Mexico Supreme Court decision that invalidated a Martinez veto. In that case, Martinez reduced an appropriation by crossing out a ‘1,’ changing the amount instead of vetoing the entire dollar amount.

In his closing remarks, Kennedy suggested if the court were to rule in favor of the Legislature, that the previous case be reviewed and possibly overruled.

Last month a group of leaders from New Mexico colleges filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court, arguing Martinez’s veto will negatively impact schools across the state. The Council of University Presidents wrote that they are not looking to place blame, but expressed their concerns for funding of the public medical care universities provide.

Oral arguments from both sides are currently scheduled for next Monday.