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Governor floats legislative funding plan

SANTA FE – With less than one week until the Supreme Court takes up a court challenge over Gov. Susana Martinez’s budget vetoes, the governor says she has a plan to restore roughly $18.8 million in funding for legislative branch agencies.

The plan, announced Tuesday, would essentially reimpose the funding proposed by the Legislature for legislative agencies before the governor used her line-item veto authority to strike it down. It could also allow for minor staffing changes.

But, as with a plan to restore higher education funding that was rolled out last week, Democratic lawmakers appear to be withholding support for now, saying they want to see more details on both plans.

“I think saying you have a plan and actually having a plan are two different things,” House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told the

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Journal .

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, sounded a similar tone, saying, “Once again, Gov. Martinez’s so-called plan is heavy on political rhetoric and light on details.”

In all, Martinez axed roughly $779 million – including all funding for legislative branch agencies and colleges and universities – from the spending bill passed by lawmakers to pay for state government operations in the coming year.

She also vetoed a $350 million package of tax increases and fees intended to help pay for the spending bill, saying it would harm New Mexico families and small businesses.

“Democrats have a plan right in front of their eyes, but they would rather make the average New Mexican pay higher gas prices,” Martinez said Tuesday, referring to a provision in the tax package. “That may work in San Francisco, where you can ride the trolley to work, but it won’t work in New Mexico.”

Spending on legislative branch agencies makes up just a fraction of the state budget – less than 1 percent – but has triggered sharp debate between the Governor’s Office and the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

If no funding is provided before the state’s new budget year begins July 1, legislative staffers would go unpaid and the state Capitol would likely be closed because no money would be available for security and maintenance.

Meanwhile, the governor’s vetoes have angered top-ranking Democratic lawmakers and stirred unease among university leaders and students. The Legislative Council, a group of top lawmakers, filed a court challenge last month arguing Martinez had overstepped her legal authority, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case next week.

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A group of Republicans in the House and Senate on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to allow it to weigh in as the budget dispute plays out in court.

The group filed a brief arguing that it would be inappropriate for the court to restore funding and overturn the governor’s vetoes – partly because it would deprive the minority caucus from participating in the “give-and-take” of the normal legislative process.

The brief was signed by 31 Republican legislators – 8 senators and 23 representatives. There are 48 GOP members of the Legislature.

Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.

 


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