Op-ed: Vetoes Raise Concerns
This week I had planned to provide my next installment of post legislative wrap up, however recent events have prompted a change in topic.
This past legislative session, amidst ever shrinking revenue forecasts and mounting needs in the state budget, legislators—House and Senate, Democrat and Republican—decided to take action by crafting a budget with no additional cuts and an accompanying revenue package that raised $350 million in new dollars for the state with such targeted, moderate revenue increases as: making out of state internet vendors pay the same sales tax as in-state vendors do, a one percent increase on motor vehicle excise tax, and an increase on the weight distance tax on out-of-state truck traffic, among others.
I have never voted for a tax increase during my entire time in the legislature, but this package was necessary. It was moderate and it was reasonable. We needed it to balance the budget, so I did the right thing and supported it.
Late on the final day for bill signing, Governor Martinez vetoed that revenue bill in its entirety. In addition, she took her veto pen to the state budget to eliminate, in its entirety, ALL funding for our state universities and colleges, and the state legislature; essentially doing away with an entire branch of government and our higher education system with one swoop of the veto pen.
Even members of her own party were dumbfounded by her actions. The former Republican chair of the House Appropriations committee, Representative Larry Larranga, was quoted in other statewide press sources as saying that the Governor had told them she would support sections of the revenue package—including closing the internet sales loophole, a Republican proposal from a previous legislative session. The bill was structured in such a way that the Governor could have signed the portions she agreed with and vetoed the rest—still raising enough revenue to meet next year’s budget needs in the midst of cratering energy prices.
So what do these actions mean for the state budget moving forward? The state’s fiscal year ends on June 30th of this year—that’s 78 days away. So far we have NO funding for ANY state college or university in the budget. And no way to generate that funding. This has caused massive uncertainties at our institutions, even prompting one of our flagship state colleges—New Mexico State University—to delay publication of their new tuition schedule for the upcoming school year; leaving parents and students in the lurch.
The Governor also took her veto pen to other bills affecting New Mexicans. She vetoed a bill that would have allowed judges to keep domestic violence perpetrators from accessing guns, she vetoed science standards that her own education department has been working on for years that would have updated our science education in the state, and she vetoed a bipartisan minimum wage of $9 per hour.
This year she vetoed a record number of bills, many of which passed unanimously and were supported by both parties and advocates from the affected communities. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for these actions – period
So now the entire state is left in the cold. We are only 78 days away from having to start shuttering campuses and state services to every citizen in New Mexico for what people from all parties are calling a political vendetta from the Governor. Our students, our seniors, and every affected person in the state had no part in creating this crisis, but they will be the ones to suffer.
This sends the wrong message to our New Mexican families. It sends the wrong message about what value we place on education in our state. It sends the wrong message about what politicians are willing to use to send a message to their political opponents, rather than get down to the tough work of governing.
I have sometimes disagreed with the Governor’s policy choices, but I have never before doubted her intentions for the wellbeing of New Mexico. This entire fiasco smacks of political gamesmanship where no one ends up a winner … especially our kids.
I’ll be heading back to Santa Fe soon for a special session to try and fix this mess, but until the Governor is willing to stop playing politics and start actually dealing with the problems our state faces, we are in for a rough ride. I’ll return next week to get back into discussion of other things that have occurred in this past legislative session.