A Republican legislator on Friday began his attempt to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of a bill that would enable teachers to use more sick days without being penalized in their performance evaluation. Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, moved to have the vetoed bill returned to the Senate so he could seek an override early next week. Martinez is also a Republican, but Brandt said he would continue pursuing the override unless they can reach a compromise in which teachers are not penalized. He said he had initiated conversations with Martinez’s Public Education Department in hopes of starting such a discussion. Related: Martinez vetoes bill on use of sick leave impacting teachers’ evaluations
“I don’t take any joy in overriding a veto,” Brandt said.
A bill that would allow teachers to take up to 10 days of sick leave without it hurting their performance evaluations is headed to the desk of Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved House Bill 241, which is subtitled “Teachers are human, too.” It amends the School Personnel Act so that using up to 10 days of personal leave or sick days in a school year would not negatively affect teachers’ performance reviews. “Teachers will do a better job teaching and will not get the students sick if they are healthy when they are in the classroom,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We should not punish them for doing their job.”
Setting up a constitutional showdown with the Legislature, Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn most of her appointees awaiting confirmation in the state Senate but will keep the officials in their posts across New Mexico government. Aides to the governor accused lawmakers on Wednesday of moving too slowly in confirming her nominations, leaving more than 70 unconfirmed as the session enters its final weeks. But some senators suggested Martinez was attempting an end run around the confirmation process that would undercut the Legislature’s role as a check on the executive branch of government. “The governor cannot circumvent the Senate’s authority,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen told the chamber Wednesday afternoon after a clerk read aloud a letter from Martinez announcing the move. The unusual maneuver has turned a typically mundane administrative process into an unlikely flash point between the governor and Democratic legislators as debate over bigger issues, such as the budget and taxes, come to a head.
The state Senate voted Wednesday to raise the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour over the next 13 months. The legislation may represent the best chance in several years to raise the minimum wage. The Senate approved the bill in a 24-6 bipartisan vote. The measure also has the support of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, which in the past has fought minimum wage hikes, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, would increase the hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018.
The state Senate’s leading budget hawk challenged Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday to reverse course and support proposals for raising taxes and fees or watch essential services get slashed even more. Sen. John Arthur Smith said any vetoes Martinez makes at this stage will force legislators to cut the budgets of public schools and health care as they follow the law to pass a balanced budget. “We’re out of places to find additional dollars,” Smith, D-Deming, said during a brief speech on the floor of the Senate. He spoke hours after the House of Representatives approved a $6.08 billion budget and then moved it to the Senate for consideration. The budget crafted by the Democrat-controlled House would increase state revenue by some $250 million with tax and fee increases.
With the state still running a deficit and reserves depleted, Democrats in the New Mexico House of Representatives have identified four tax or fee increases they say would prevent more cuts to education and put the state on better financial footing. The initiatives — taxing all internet sales, raising the permit fee on heavy trucks, closing a loophole that benefits nonprofit hospitals and increasing the tax on vehicle transfers — could raise more than $200 million in ongoing revenue. Some of it would go to avoid cuts in state agencies and some to beef up reserves. The move to bring together the House Democratic caucus came on the same day as state economists restated a revenue forecast from December that shows the economy has stabilized but reserves are far below the desired level of $300 million, or 5 percent of recurring revenue. The reserve account for the $5.6 billion budget at the end of the fiscal year on June 30 is projected at 1.6 percent.
Two state legislators who will try to convince fellow lawmakers and the governor to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adults in New Mexico said Wednesday that they will stress the economic benefits of their idea. Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, described marijuana legalization as the best solution for the state’s ongoing budget problems.
Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said New Mexicans are spending millions of dollars on illegal marijuana, money that “goes to Mexican drug cartels.” Legalizing marijuana would keep that money — as well as what New Mexicans spend on legal cannabis in Colorado — in this state, McCamley said. Plus, he said, marijuana would generate new tax revenue. The pro-marijuana forces have more going for them than in previous years.
While state lawmakers continue to slash budgets, unemployment remains high, and more uncertainty than ever surrounds federal government policies, economists said Tuesday that New Mexico’s economy has stabilized and will see an uptick in growth in the coming year. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, economists from the state’s two largest universities said higher energy prices are helping boost growth, and that means higher employment and income levels throughout New Mexico by 2018. Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said that when he spoke to lawmakers a year ago, the price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude had slumped to $26.60. That benchmark as of Tuesday had climbed to almost $53. “I remember sitting here a year ago and we watched it go to $26.60,” Mitchell said.
As New Mexico lawmakers prepare to convene for the 2017 legislative session — Gov. Susana Martinez’s final 60-day session — probably the most common words spoken at the Roundhouse by legislators, staff, lobbyists, reporters and other Capitol regulars are some version of “Here we go again.” Another session. Another budget crisis. More partisan head-knocking. More harsh rhetoric.
New Mexico legislators start their 60-day session Tuesday with plenty of unfinished business, including closing a projected budget deficit of about $67 million. But any hope that the passing of a rancorous election year and the ongoing budget crisis would inspire bipartisan compromise already seems to have evaporated. Instead, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and top lawmakers have staked out positions that almost guarantee a clash over taxes and spending. In addition, more budget cuts are likely, no matter the outcome. Martinez proposed easing the projected deficit by requiring public employees to pay for a bigger share toward their pensions.