Time to assess the damage.
Well over 200 pieces of legislation were passed in this year’s session at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, though more than half of the bills handed over to the governor were vetoed. One Albuquerque Journal report declared Susana Martinez’s 145 vetoes this time around “the high-water mark” during her six years so far as governor.
For Republicans and Libertarians, the vetoes are a good thing. Libertarians figure the fewer bills passed the better, and the Republicans don’t want to cede any more than necessary to the Democrats, who control both of New Mexico’s legislative chambers.
What’s more, Journal reporters Dan McKay and Dan Boyd also reported, a total of 132 bills became law on April 7, when the window closed on gubernatorial vetoes and signings. Brace yourself, New Mexico, another layer of laws just entered our governmental fray.
Perhaps the most significant piece of legislation to come out of this session isn’t law yet. It’s a proposed constitutional amendment that creates a state ethics commission with subpoena powers when investigating complaints against politicians and other government officials. A handful of lawmakers have been trying to pass such a measure for years, and finally their efforts have succeeded. It’ll be on the November 2018 general election ballot for the state’s voters to decide.
Another piece of good-government legislation came up short this session. Senate Bill 262, Think New Mexico’s latest signature bill, would reform the way the state doles out its capital funds. It made it through the Senate but not the House.
Perhaps, like the ethics commission proposal, reforming the state’s capital outlay process will take years to pass. Or, maybe it will pass next year, since it did get a lot farther this year than it did last time around.
There was also nothing to come out of the session regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana, something I thought would happen this session. With Donald Trump’s election, it seems that concerns have grown over states’ legalization laws conflicting with federal law, which still lists pot as a Schedule I drug. I’m not sure how much that contributed to New Mexico lawmakers’ hesitancy this time around, but Trump’s unpredictability does seem to have cut into the momentum toward state-by-state legalization.
More notable in it’s non-passage, however, is the budget bill. Lawmakers passed one, but it contained tax increases and that’s a line in the sand for Martinez, who promptly vetoed it. She says she’ll call a special session soon to get one passed, but I’m not sure what will have changed by then, except for the urgency.
Moreover, with subsequent line-item vetoes, the governor has upped the ante. The Associated Press’s Morgan Lee has reported that by cutting $745 million from higher education, schools are now facing a “budget cliff” on June 30, when the state money they depend on dries up.
The partisan bickering between the ledge and the guv is deteriorating. Words like “idiot” are entering the debate. Relations between Martinez and the state Senate have never been good, but it seems to be approaching a new low.
Last fall, the governor called a special session to address a state funding shortfall. Crisis was averted in the short-term, until the 60-day session when a new budget would get things straightened out. But that didn’t happen, and now there’s a new crisis to contend with.
No worries. The upcoming special session will have a new spirit of cooperation, and lawmakers will join hands with the governor for the good of our state. Yeah, right.
Martinez remains governor, and the Democrats control the House and Senate, through 2018. If the governor wants to get anything done in her final two years, she’d better figure out a way to work with Democrats.
The problem is, crossing party line has never been her strong suit (though she did enjoy a strong crossover vote in both her election and re-election). Plus, the Dems don’t care about making it easy on her. Instead, they appear willing to wait her out.
But it’s in no one’s interest, including New Mexico’s citizenry, to allow this budgetary gridlock to destroy the state’s credit rating (which Dems say it may) or, worst, shut down state government (which Martinez says could happen).
One way or another, compromise must enter into the equation. If it doesn’t, we the citizenry will be the ones paying for it.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org