May 10, 2017

LCS argues guv’s vetoes ‘disturb the balance of power’ in state government

Joe Gratz


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.

“The Governor’s line-item vetoes so disturb the balance of power essential to our constitutional system of government that they threaten the continuation of the legislature in its role as a co-equal branch of government, and the constitutionally recognized system of higher education,” they wrote.

LCS also argues that if Martinez vetoed the annual spending bill to balance the state budget, she could have gone through each spending item within it line by line to find specific spending within the Higher Education Department or the Legislature to veto.

“There was absolutely no necessity to veto the operating budget for an entire branch of government of for the entire state university system,” according to the LCS legal brief.

Because the state Legislature’s budget only makes up 0.3 percent of annual state spending, it was “hardly an appropriate target to balance the budget,” the LCS brief read.

Similarly, the attorneys argue that she could have line-itemed $120,000—the amount of increase earmarked for in the Legislative Finance Committee for next year that Martinez expressed concern over—from individual items in the Legislature’s budget proposal. But Martinez “chose instead to destroy the entire state university system,” the attorneys argued.

They also maintain Martinez could have legally vetoed the entire appropriation bill as an alternative to nixing funding for entire state agencies. Such an action would be “far less draconian than eliminating all funding for a branch of government” and would have set Martinez and the Legislature “on an equal footing” to solve in a special session.

The LCS attorneys also maintained that the state Supreme Court is the proper venue to decide “the importance of the issue involved.”

“Absent this Court’s intervention, the unconstitutional action threatens to irreparably and permanently disrupt the balance of powers between the legislature and the executive, which are central to our constitutional system of government,” they argued.

Last week, Martinez attorney Paul Kennedy argued in a legal filing that the high court should wait to decide the case “until an upcoming special legislative session is complete.”

Martinez last week set the date for a special session to solve the budget problems to begin on May 24, nine days after the Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments for the case.

Read the full LCS arguments below: by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd