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Governor vetoes education, wage bills

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday vetoed an increase in the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour — a cornerstone of the majority Democrats’ legislative agenda — saying it would “kill New Mexico jobs.”

In an ongoing standoff with Democrats over education issues, the Republican governor also vetoed seven school-related bills. She said in a sweeping veto message that they all “represent a desire by the establishment to cling to the same failed status quo.”

The governor faces a Friday deadline for signing or vetoing legislation that passed in the 60-day session that ended March 16.

She had threatened all along to veto the minimum wage measure, Senate Bill 416, which was opposed by a broad swath of business groups.

“Had there been willingness to compromise on a reasonable wage rate that is in line with our neighboring states, I would be signing into law a higher minimum wage today,” Martinez wrote in her veto message.

She was referring to an amendment offered on the House floor that would have set the hourly minimum at $7.80, the same as Arizona’s. It failed on a tie vote.

Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he was disappointed in the veto.

“I was hoping she would help out the working families of New Mexico, and the poor people, so they could participate more in the economic recovery,” he said.

New Mexico has the largest gap between high- and low-income workers, and “this would help,” the lawmaker said.

Democratic supporters of the $8.50 rate said inflation has eroded the $7.50 rate established in 2009, and the extra income for New Mexico’s minimum-wage workers — who earn $300 a week before taxes — would immediately be pumped into the local economy.

Opponents of the higher rate said it would make New Mexico less competitive with neighboring states and could prompt employers to hike prices or reduce their workforces.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe already have higher minimum wage rates, approved by voters: Albuquerque’s is $8.50 an hour, while Santa Fe’s is $10.51.

Senate Bill 416 exempted businesses with fewer than 11 workers and would have allowed employers to pay a $7.50-an-hour “training wage” to new hires for their first six months on the job.

Martinez complained that Democrats refused to compromise and “passed a minimum wage increase that would amount to the 4th highest in the nation — a rate that would be unsustainable and kill New Mexico jobs.”

Vetoed education bills

The governor’s veto of seven education bills was accompanied by a message that said all of the measures “represent a misguided effort to protect and defend a status quo that has failed our kids and left New Mexico at the bottom of national education rankings for too many years.”

She said the bills’ sponsors chose to defend “entrenched special interests,” block reform in legislative committees that would have had bipartisan support in the full House and Senate, and “repackage the worst parts of our education system” to protect “fellow members of the status-quo establishment.”

Martinez once again this year failed to get lawmakers to enact her proposal to hold back third-graders who can’t read proficiently.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the vetoes of education bills sponsored by Democrats is a sign that the Republican governor isn’t considering all possible ways to improve the state’s education system.

“I’m supportive of making changes for our (education) system, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Sapien said. “The governor has to be at the table to discuss changes and not just proceed with a change that in her mind is the only way to do things.”

Among the vetoed legislation were bills that would have:

♦ Prohibited charter schools, school districts or the Public Education Department from entering into contracts with private entities to administer curriculum for public schools or school districts.

♦ Established in law the requirements for advancing through the three-tiered teacher licensure system, which are currently in regulations overseen by the Public Education Department.

♦ Changed the A-to-F school ratings law to include an alternative formula for calculating the grade of schools where at least 75 percent of students have certain risk factors.

♦ Created separate councils to make recommendations on school grading and to develop a teacher and principal evaluation system.
— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal