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Governor threatens vetoes as session nears finish line

SANTA FE – Preparing to end their 60-day session at noon today, New Mexico lawmakers worked into the night Friday to put final touches on major legislation, approving a minimum wage increase and adopting a solvency fix for the state’s educator pension fund.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s office responded swiftly on the plan to increase the state minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour, with a spokesman saying the governor would veto the bill.

‘The governor offered to sign a compromise that would have increased the minimum wage to $7.80 per hour, putting us on equal footing with Arizona and Colorado, but Democrats in the Legislature refused to come to the table and instead are passing bill that would make New Mexico’s minimum wage the fourth-highest in the country,” said Greg Blair, spokesman for the Republican governor.

A $5.9 billion state budget bill, passed by the Legislature earlier this week, also produced rumblings from the Governor’s Office on the Capitol’s fourth floor.

Martinez had promised to veto the budget because it failed to include funding for some of her education and economic development initiatives.

Martinez could call lawmakers back to Santa Fe later this year for a special session after a budget veto or the refusal of majority Democrats to approve her key recommendations.

Some legislators, hoping to avoid a budget veto, worked to compile an eleventh-hour offering of tax breaks or incentives to boost the state economy.

A legislative plan adopted Friday night by the Senate Finance Committee highlighted a cut to the state’s corporate tax rate to 5.9 percent for the next five years. That would be a reduction from the state’s current 7.6 percent tax rate but still short of the governor’s request for a 4.9 percent corporate tax.

The Senate tax plan included a partial repeal of the state law that reimburses local governments for taxes on food and medical services that no longer are collected. It also would change the way most so-called big box stores based out of state are required to file their income taxes, limit some gross receipts tax deductions and allow New Mexico manufacturers to pay income taxes only on in-state sales.

Full Senate action on the tax plan was pending late Friday.

The move to establish a variety of tax breaks and incentives came after the Republican governor on Friday vetoed the so-called “Breaking Bad” bill that reworked economic incentives for the film industry. Martinez said she would approve such an effort only if it came alongside other incentive programs.

“I cannot in good conscience further expand New Mexico’s film subsidy while leaving other sectors in our economy unassisted and genuine reform unattained,” Martinez wrote Friday in a veto message.

“I again reiterate my willingness to meet legislators halfway and will support an increased film incentive as part of a broader reform package that I hope the Legislature will pass before adjournment,” the governor said.

The Senate late Friday gave final approval to a number of high-profile bills passed earlier in the day by the House. Those votes sent the legislation on to Martinez’s desk for consideration.

In addition to the minimum wage increase, the Legislature also passed bills to make the state’s Educational Retirement Board pension plan solvent by increasing teachers’ contributions into the fund, establish a state-run health insurance exchange program and allow Sunday alcohol sales at bars and restaurants to begin at 11 a.m. instead of noon.

The Senate had previously passed each of those initiatives, but amendments added to each bill in the House required another vote of concurrence for final adoption.

The Senate floor was also expected to be the scene for a debate over requiring firearms buyers at gun shows to submit to federal background checks.

The gun show bill, House Bill 77, also includes Republican-backed efforts to increase the state’s reporting requirements to prevent mentally ill individuals from accessing firearms.

If House Bill 77 is approved by the Senate, it would still need a concurrence vote in the House before being sent to the governor, who said she would sign the compromise bill.

Other key initiatives of the legislative session appeared to be dead as the Legislature approached its final hours.

The governor’s effort to end the practice of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants has been stalled in Senate and House committees, with no additional meetings planned.

An effort to fund early childhood education programs by increasing the annual withdrawal from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund was on its death bed in the Senate Finance Committee, where the chairman, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said he was not scheduling a hearing on either House or Senate versions of the bill because the proposals did not have enough votes to pass committee.

A vote on the confirmation of Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera appeared unlikely before adjournment today.

Despite nearly 10 hours of confirmation hearings in the Senate Rules Committee over the past two weeks, the committee had not voted on a recommendation to the full Senate.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, the chairwoman of that committee, had said she hoped to find time for a hearing on Skandera on Friday, but no meeting was held.