SANTA FE – A bipartisan bill that would impose a fee on dog and cat food to help fund spay-neuter programs could find itself in Gov. Susana Martinez’s crosshairs.
While backers of the measure have described it as a cost-effective way of addressing pet overpopulation, especially in rural parts of New Mexico, the two-term Republican governor hinted at a possible veto during a news conference held shortly after lawmakers wrapped up their 30-day session last week.
Martinez, who has repeatedly railed against proposed tax increases since taking office in 2011, specifically cited the pet food bill in her remarks to reporters as an example of lawmakers’ renewed attempts to pass revenue-generating legislation.
“Once again, Santa Fe politicians tried to raise taxes on New Mexicans,” Martinez said in the Feb. 15 news conference.
But advocates say they’re not giving up hope Martinez will sign the legislation, and have urged New Mexicans to contact the Governor’s Office and express their support.
Jessica Johnson, the chief legislative officer of Animal Protection Voters, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit group that pushed for this year’s bill, said the legislation amounts to a user fee, not a tax increase.
“We’re confident the governor can sign House Bill 64 and conserve her pledge not to raise taxes,” Johnson said Tuesday, while pointing out that Martinez has signed into law other bills dealing with funding for pet-related programs.
The pet food measure passed both legislative chambers by decisive margins during the just-completed 30-day session.
It calls for an annual fee to be levied on commercial pet food brands sold in New Mexico. The fee would eventually generate nearly $1.4 million a year for programs that help low-income families spay or neuter their pets.
Supporters estimate the extra fee would eventually cost families about $1.38 a year for each dog or cat, if the full cost is passed on to consumers. The fee would be phased in over three years.
New Mexico has one of the nation’s highest pet overpopulation rates, Johnson said, and spending more money on spay-neuter programs would be far cheaper than the cost to euthanize unhealthy pets that don’t have homes.
“It’s not only sad; it’s an extremely expensive problem,” Johnson said.
The governor has until March 7 to decide whether to sign or veto bills passed during the session’s final days. Any legislation that isn’t acted on by that deadline is automatically vetoed.