Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday signed an $8.6 million bill to fund the legislative session and provide about 460 employees at the state Capitol with their paychecks this week. But Martinez also vetoed a portion of the bill that would have supplied emergency funding for the court system, prompting Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels to say there will be no money for jury trials beginning March 1. “We’re facing requests to dismiss serious criminal cases because we have not been able to provide speedy trials as our constitution requires,” he said. Martinez’s stinging message to lawmakers explaining her line-item veto on court funding demonstrates how partisan mudslinging has stalled even basic governance during this 60-day session. The funding bill for the legislative session typically is approved and signed as a routine matter, but New Mexico’s financial crisis means this session is anything but ordinary.
Passage of a “feed bill” to cover the costs of the New Mexico Legislature typically is a slam dunk, unanimously adopted as the first order of business at each annual lawmaking session in Santa Fe. But in an environment where partisanship can flare up in myriad ways, even that piece of legislation has become a battleground. Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday night vetoed funding for the Legislature, taking on Democratic lawmakers less than two weeks into a 60-day session so far dominated by debate over the state’s budget crisis. In a veto message, Martinez denounced Democrats for rejecting a proposal from Republicans in the state House of Representatives to reduce spending by the legislative branch at a time when other limbs of state government are being forced to get by with less. “Despite repeatedly declaring that we’re in a ‘constitutional budget crisis,’ the Senate and House Democrats continue to find ways to protect themselves and their budget — even as they have squeezed money out of other areas of government,” wrote Martinez, a Republican.
The House of Representatives wasted no time in passing the bill that pays for the legislative session. The Feed Bill is annually HB 1, and contains funding for running the legislative session, including salaries for legislative staff. Update: The Senate quickly passed the legislation on Thursday morning. The legislation passed on a 35-0 vote with no debate. The only discussion, if you could call it that, was Senate Finance Committee chairman John Arthur Smith describing how much money would be spent in the bill.