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Governor vetoes fee to fund spay-neuter

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday axed a bill that would have imposed a fee on dog and cat food to help fund spay-neuter programs, and she signed a measure requiring more scrutiny of a gubernatorial fund that has historically been used to pay for lavish dinners and receptions.

The governor had previously hinted at vetoing the pet food fee legislation, House Bill 64, and said Thursday that local governments are better-positioned than the state to promote the spaying and neutering of pets.

“I strongly encourage New Mexicans to spay and neuter their pets – however this misguided legislation is nothing more than a tax increase that would not solve the problem,” the two-term Republican governor said in a statement.

Backers had described the bill as a user fee – not a tax – and said it could help reduce pet overpopulation, especially in rural New Mexico.

Meanwhile, the newly signed transparency bill will take effect in January 2019, meaning it will not apply to Martinez. The governor is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office, and her current term expires at the end of this year.

The measure, Senate Bill 252, passed both legislative chambers without a single “no” vote during the 30-day session that ended last month. It was sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue, an Albuquerque Republican.

Among other things, the bill makes the governor’s contingency fund subject to audit and requires that monthly reports be filed about expenditures from the fund.

In a message to lawmakers, Martinez said New Mexico residents deserve to know how the governor is spending taxpayer dollars. But she also criticized legislators for not endorsing a separate transparency proposal.

“While I am pleased to sign this bill into law and continue to make our state more transparent, I am disappointed that lawmakers did not take up calls to make their own emails be subject to public inspection similar to the executive branch,” Martinez said.

The contingency fund drew attention in December 2015 after Martinez hosted a holiday party – with a roughly $7,900 tab – that ended with Santa Fe police responding to a rowdy party and the governor pressing police dispatchers to tell her who had filed the noise complaint.

Money from the fund – typically about $80,000 annually – is appropriated by the Legislature and is treated as personal income for governors, meaning they must report it on state and federal tax forms and offset the income with expenses to avoid tax liability.

Martinez also signed 19 other bills Thursday. She has signed 45 bills passed in this year’s session and vetoed two. Sixty-four bills still await action before a March 7 deadline. Bills not signed by that date are automatically vetoed.