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Lawmakers expect veto pen will be little used

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A year ago, the Roundhouse was so combative that Gov. Susana Martinez issued a series of vetoes and wouldn’t explain why.

But state lawmakers wrapped up a much more cooperative session last week, and they say they made it a point to work together to find common ground – not only between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, but also with the Martinez administration.

Now the fate of 111 bills is up to Martinez, a Republican who has until March 7 to sign or veto legislation passed in the final days of the session, when the bulk of the work gets done.

The governor has made few direct promises about what she will ultimately approve. She indicated that she would sign the budget – perhaps with some line-item vetoes – and a broad anti-crime bill.

She and her staff say they will analyze the bills that made it to her desk carefully over the next three weeks.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said he would be surprised if there’s a major series of vetoes – in contrast to last year, when Martinez vetoed more than half of the bills passed by the Legislature, even some measures that didn’t draw a dissenting vote in either chamber.

Democrats and Republicans alike, Egolf said, tried to make it a session that “produces results, not just speeches and rhetoric.”

House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, had a similar assessment.

“I think there was a real willingness this session to acknowledge that no one’s ever going to get all of what they want, but we should make every effort to determine what it is we can live with,” Gentry said.

The attempts at compromise include an anti-crime package of legislation and a $6.3 billion budget proposal, legislators said.

The 111 bills passed this year are the most Martinez has received in a 30-day session since taking office seven years ago. In other short sessions, she received 100 bills in 2016, 91 in 2014 and 77 in 2012.

The Legislature had much more money to work with this year than in 2017 – a fact that changed the atmosphere, officials said.

Lawmakers didn’t send the governor any tax increases this year, though they did pass a bill that would impose a fee on dog and cat food.

A year ago, the governor and lawmakers had to immediately pass a solvency package aimed at ensuring New Mexico had enough cash to continue paying its bills amid a financial crisis. Then the Legislature and governor clashed over whether to raise taxes to balance the budget for the next fiscal year.

Martinez vetoed about $350 million in tax and fee increases.

And she didn’t stop there. At one point, she frustrated lawmakers by vetoing bills without explaining why – a dispute that remains in litigation.

Altogether, Martinez rejected 52 percent of the bills approved by lawmakers in 2017 – the highest rate of her tenure and more even than Gary Johnson, whose vetoes once earned him the nickname Governor No.

But Martinez gave little indication something like that is on the horizon.

“I am generally pleased with the results and very pleased with the bipartisanship that took place,” she told reporters after the session adjourned.