Gov. Susana Martinez issued a formal declaration on Friday that a special session of the Legislature will begin May 24 to address the state’s budget standoff.
The proclamation that formalized the special session came two days after Martinez announced a budget “agreement” that lacked the agreement from House Democrats or Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.
Democratic legislative leaders responded to the news with yawns.
“I remain very disappointed that the governor has not put forward any details of her proposal,” said House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “Until she shows the details to the people of the state and the Legislature, it isn’t possible to know whether there can be an agreement.
“The governor knows, because House and Senate leadership have been clear from the beginning, that cuts to education, health care, behavioral health and important economic development initiatives will not be accepted during a special session,” Egolf said.
That’s partly because they’re still not seeing a plan from the governor to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The legislation the governor specified to be considered during the upcoming session — which includes using capital outlay money and legislative retirement funds to plug a budget hole and reform of the state’s gross receipts tax — doesn’t fully plug the hole.
“The scarce details provided by Governor Martinez in the proclamation do not add up,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “New Mexico cannot afford the additional cuts the governor seems intent on making a reality.”
It’s also because the Legislative Council is suing the governor to try to undo her recent vetoes of legislative and higher education funding, arguing that she can’t eliminate constitutionally mandated agencies. The N.M. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in that case on May 15, nine days before the session begins.
“We should all keep in mind that the agenda and need for a special session will not be fully known until the Supreme Court makes a decision after the May 15 hearing,” Egolf said.
Martinez also vetoed a $350 million tax-hike bill lawmakers approved in their recent session, so even if the Legislative Council is successful in court there would be a budget shortfall still unaddressed.
The governor filed her response to the lawsuit with the Supreme Court on Friday. In it, she argued that the Legislature hasn’t met the requirements for a hearing before the high court and that she has the authority to issue the vetoes.
“The governor never stated that she is abolishing the Legislature or any state education institutions,” the brief states, noting the upcoming special session. “Neither the legislative agencies nor the educational institutions have run out of funds, and there is still time to appropriate funds for the next fiscal year.”
Meanwhile, Martinez’s 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 come 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. In a brief filed Friday, university presidents urged a swift resolution.
“Some of the damage caused by the vetoes is irreparable; some students have already been discouraged,” the New Mexico Council of University Presidents said in a friend-of-the-court brief, according to the Albuquerque Journal.