Talk about dysfunctional.
Last week, New Mexico lawmakers filed suit against Gov. Susana Martinez over budget vetoes that essentially defund the legislative branch and, if not reversed before June 30, push several state schools over a fiscal cliff. Short of any action to the contrary, the funding shortfall will create a crisis of epic proportions.
Democrats in the state Legislature are asking the state Supreme Court to rescind the governor’s line-item vetoes that cut off funding for the House and Senate and took away $745 million in annual spending for state colleges, universities and schools for the deaf and blind. Lawmakers contend it’s executive overreach—a clear violation of the state’s constitutional provisions regarding separation of powers and our governmental system of checks and balances.
Martinez, on the other hand, says she has the power to do so, and sees it as her duty to reign in the lawmakers who are determined to solve the state’s budget woes with tax increases.
She isn’t willing to sign on to the $6.1 billion budget that lawmakers handed her in March because it contains about $350 million in new taxes and fee increases—something she has vowed never to approve. The Democrats knew that going in, but decided to push the increases through anyway, and look what happened.
You’ve got to hand it to Martinez, when she said she wouldn’t budge on her no-new-taxes pledge, she meant it. It’s an ideological principle for her, a line in the sand, and her stubbornness is something her Republican partisans appreciate and support.
But ideology aside, it hasn’t helped the state. With a years-long slump in the oil and gas industry, which supplies New Mexico with about a third of its tax revenues, certain state government operations are running on fumes, and that’s hurt New Mexicans in a variety of ways. Social services, schools, infrastructure and other governmental responsibilities have taken a hit during Martinez’s tenure as governor.
The online magazine U.S. News & World Report lists New Mexico’s government 43rd among the nation’s 50 states, based on the standards of government transparency, integrity, fiscal stability and use of digital technology to serve its residents. That’s actually a better ranking than we have in other categories such as the economy, education and crime and corrections—of which we’re 47th, 48th and 49th respectively. Martinez’s fiscal conservatism has not made New Mexico a more prosperous state.
Nor has the Legislature’s propensity to tax and spend. Lawmakers keep passing bills that they know Martinez doesn’t support, so their measures don’t make it past her veto pen. This year alone, she vetoed more than 140 bills, which has conjured up comparisons between her and Gary Johnson, who was nicknamed “Governor No” for the hundreds of vetoes he penned in his eight years in the office. According to a recent article in The New Mexican, Martinez hasn’t come close to the 700-plus bills Johnson vetoed between 1995 and 2002, but percentage-wise, she bested his veto record this year by nixing 51 percent of the 277 bills passed this session.
Johnson is proud of his Governor No nickname; he’s used it to tout his libertarian tendencies. We’ll see if Martinez does any bragging of her own.
Meanwhile, here’s another new story that come out last week: In March, New Mexico had the highest unemployment rate in the nation, at 6.7 percent. We can’t even “thank God for Mississippi” this time, because in this category we’re 50th.
Nationally, unemployment dropped below 5 percent in January 2016 and has remained there ever since; in March it stood at 4.5 percent. The last time New Mexico’s was that low was in August 2008.
Is that Martinez’s fault? No. She inherited a weak state economy. But after six years in office, you’d think she would have brought our economy at little closer in line to the nation’s.
The problem is the absence of compromise in Santa Fe. Martinez’s stubbornness might be commendable to some, but it’s also a roadblock to progress. And lawmakers aren’t helping with their stubborn pushback with bills they know the governor opposes.
Soon enough, the state’s Supreme Court justices will hear the case, and hopefully their ruling will loosen up the logjam between the legislative and executive branches. But I doubt it’ll mend any fences.
Instead, we can look forward to yet another costly special session, where Band-Aids will be applied to our latest budgetary wounds. Then we can all breathe a sigh of relief that we somehow averted yet another self-inflicted crisis.
Talk about dysfunctional.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and owner-manager of Gazette Media Services. He can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.