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NM Supreme Court denies legislature petition against governor

The Associated Press and KOB.com Web Staff
May 12, 2017 07:35 AM

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a request to override budget vetoes, leaving negotiations about how to solve the state's budget crisis - and restore funding to the Legislature - in the hands of the governor and lawmakers.

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The New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order Thursday denying the petition by the Legislature against Gov. Susana Martinez, saying "the petition is denied as not ripe for review,"siding with attorneys for the governor who cautioned justices against an abuse of their judicial power.

In the two-page order, the court said it was too soon to consider any possible constitutional violations related to Martinez's vetoes of all funding for the Legislature and state universities in the coming fiscal year.

The Republican governor has called a special session for May 24 in an attempt to resolve a state budget crisis linked to faltering tax revenues and a weak local economy.

"I was very pleased with the ruling of the Supreme Court because it is absolutely giving us an opportunity for the Legislature to work together in a bipartisan way and also to work with the executive to come up with a balanced budget that is responsible and to do so fairly quickly," Martinez said. "So there’s till opportunity for us to do that and I think that’s why the Supreme Court has done that."

The Legislature had argued that Martinez overstepped her authority by defunding the legislative branch of government and all state institutions of higher education.

Martinez had urged the state Supreme Court to stay out of budget negotiations and said her vetoes were made in pursuit of reductions to state spending and never sought to abolish the Legislature.

For the upcoming special session, she has outlined rough proposals to restore most vetoed funding, but there has been no sign of a compromise with Democratic lawmakers.

"We’re going to make our budget a priority, of course," Martinez said. "To make sure that we put back the funds into higher education and also to the legislative branch, but we have to do it in a very responsible way and not spend more money than we actually have."

In mid-March, lawmakers sent Martinez a budget package that would slightly boost state general fund spending to $6.1 billion and included several tax and fee increases. She rejected the tax hikes, while also signing line-item vetoes that scratch funding for the legislative branch and cut $745 million in annual general fund spending to state universities, community colleges and specialty schools.

The simmering feud over New Mexico's budget shortfalls has triggered tuition increases at several public state colleges, layoffs at museums and a shortage of public defenders.

State university presidents warned the Supreme Court that the budget impasse already has caused harm by frightening off prospective students and undermining efforts to recruit faculty and research scientists.

Without a compromise, New Mexico runs the risk of closing down its Statehouse, crippling university programs, and defunding public hospitals and emergency medical facilities.

Most Republican lawmakers sided with Martinez and her authority to veto major budget provisions, even though most Senate Republicans had voted for tax increases opposed by the governor.

A hiring freeze is in place at most state agencies, and Martinez has ordered them to draw up plans for possible unpaid staff furloughs, citing thin cash reserves.

"Going to court really wasted some time, some very precious time for us to work on this budget together like we’re supposed to," Martinez said.

Democratic lawmakers have said a rebound in the oil and natural gas sector could make additional austerity measures unnecessary.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen and Speaker of the House Brian Egolf released a joint statement on the ruling:

"We respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision not to act on the Governor’s unconstitutional elimination of funding for student financial aid, every college and university, Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital and the entire legislative branch of government. Despite the lack of a Court decision, the fact remains that the Governor’s vetoes were irresponsible and have created unprecedented instability in our economy and in our households. The legislative leadership, as always, remains committed to finding a solution to the crisis the Governor created. We will continue to propose solutions that focus on supporting our working families and our students."

Credits

The Associated Press and KOB.com Web Staff

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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