A legislative special session aimed at resolving a budget standoff and restoring funding for higher education and the Legislature begins at noon Wednesday.
The session comes after Gov. Susana Martinez’s March vetoes of funding for the state’s public colleges and universities and the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Martinez also vetoed a bill that would have raised the tax on gasoline and other taxes and fees to help balance the budget and put some money in reserves.
There’s no certainty policymakers will reach an agreement during the session. Martinez, a Republican, has said she wants the Senate to confirm her university regents appointees as part of a deal. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, says that won’t happen during the special session.
Martinez also says she wants approval of legislation to reform the state’s gross receipts tax. That proposal would eliminate some or all of the hundreds of exemptions to the tax, lower the overall rate, and possibly reduce some of the pyramiding in the tax code.
But House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, says the proposal is dead on arrival in the special session. Some Democratic lawmakers have said reform is too complex to approve in a short session without much fiscal analysis or public input. The public hasn’t yet seen the proposed legislation.
Democratic leaders say they’ll instead focus on restoring the funding Martinez vetoed. The higher education veto has put the state’s colleges and universities in the difficult position of not being able to plan for the fiscal year that begins in a few weeks — and comes at a time when high-school seniors are deciding whether to attend college in state or out of state. Several university presidents and student body presidents from around New Mexico have spoken out against the veto.
But how lawmakers will fund the budget without tax increases — which Martinez has said must be part of the comprehensive reform Egolf says won’t happen — isn’t clear.
Martinez wants to take $12.5 million from the state employees’ retirement fund, which also goes to lawmakers’ retirements, to help plug the budget hole. The Public Employees Retirement Association, which manages that fund, says taking money from it is unconstitutional. While House Republicans, the minority party in that chamber, back the proposal, it’s unlikely to clear the House or Senate.
An attempt to override Martinez’s vetoes is possible, but unlikely.
Martinez decides the agenda for the session and when it begins, but the House and Senate decide when they adjourn. The length of the session is unclear.
If the governor and lawmakers can’t reach agreement, the Legislative Council could go back to the N.M. Supreme Court after the session and ask it to restore higher education and legislative funding. The high court dismissed the Legislative Council’s petition earlier this month, which argued that the vetoes were unconstitutional, saying it wasn’t ripe for judicial review.
NMPolitics.net will keep you updated on what happens. Check back throughout the session.