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Gov. Spends $48,000 on Office Chairs

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SANTA FE — Taxpayers picked up the tab for new furniture in the governor’s suite of offices in the Capitol as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez continues to feud with the judiciary over whether state government should pay for furnishings in a new district courthouse in Santa Fe.

The Governor’s Office recently spent $48,000 to buy 185 chairs to replace ones that were old or worn-out, according to a spokesman for the governor. The new furniture includes 58 high-back, black desk chairs with casters, some of which are for staff work spaces and others circle a large round marble table in a room used for meetings of top officials who form the governor’s Cabinet.

The furnishings for Martinez’s office has one Santa Fe lawmaker fuming.

“It certainly seems unfortunate that if she is spending money on herself then it’s worth it, but if she’s going to spend money on the court and the judges, she thinks it’s not worth it,” said Democratic Rep. Brian Egolf.

The governor vetoed nearly $1.4 million in state bond proceeds the Legislature approved this year for furnishing the 1st Judicial District courthouse. Martinez has suggested it should be the responsibility of the county — not the state — to provide furniture for a new courthouse.

The county and the judiciary disagree, saying it’s the county’s obligation to build a courthouse but the state’s responsibility to pay for court operations, including furniture. District courts are part of the state’s judicial branch of government.

Judges and court personnel had expected to move into the $60 million courthouse next January, but court officials say the building may sit vacant for several months if the state Board of Finance doesn’t provide an emergency loan for furniture and the court has to wait for the Legislature to provide money next year.

Scott Darnell, a spokesman for Martinez, defends buying furniture for the office. He says it not only was needed but was purchased with savings from the governor’s $3.4 million operating budget for the fiscal year that ended last week. The Governor’s Office expects to have about $150,000 left over in its budget, even with the purchase of the furniture, and will return the surplus to the state’s main financial account.

“The previous chairs in the Cabinet room had been there for two decades. Nearly all were badly worn and several were not fully functional,” Darnell said in an email statement.

The new chairs have a lifetime warranty and the state received a discount of up to 65 percent in buying them.

Besides the 58 high-back desk chairs, 127 standard chairs with arm rests were purchased for use around tables for meetings and conferences in other rooms in the governor’s suite of offices.

The courthouse furnishings are entangled in a dispute between the Martinez administration and the Legislature over the best use of bond financing for capital improvements. The governor contends that bond proceeds should be used for long-term projects, such as building renovations, and that money in an agency’s operating budget should cover furniture and equipment.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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