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UPDATED: Lawmakers Sue Governor Over Line-Item Vetoes

SANTA FE — Ten Democratic lawmakers asked the state’s highest court on Wednesday to invalidate partial vetoes by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, including her rejection of higher taxes on businesses to shore up the state’s unemployment compensation fund.

At issue are constitutional questions of whether the governor exceeded her line-item veto powers, which permit her to reject parts of legislation while allowing the overall measure to become law.

Two lawsuits were filed with the New Mexico Supreme Court to nullify two vetoes, which would reinstate provisions approved by the Legislature.

In one instance, the governor vetoed a $128 million increase in the taxes that businesses pay into the unemployment fund. However, Martinez allowed reductions in jobless benefits, which were part of the same legislation, to become law.

In the other disputed veto, the governor changed an appropriation in a budget bill from $150,000 to $50,000 for an agency that finances low-income housing. That was done by striking a single digit — the “1” from the $150,000.

The lawsuit contends that a governor can eliminate an entire allocation of money with a partial veto but can’t alter the amount.

“The governor’s attempt at such an invasion into legislative powers, if allowed, would provide the governor with vast abilities to manipulate the legislative power of appropriation,” the lawsuit said. “If digits are allowed to be removed from this appropriation, digits may be removed from every appropriation, thereby effectively transferring a significant portion of the power to appropriate from the legislative to the executive.”

Scott Darnell, a spokesman for the governor, defended the vetoes.

“The governor was right to line-item veto a $128 million job-killing tax increase on small businesses, and it’s unfortunate that a handful of legislators would now ask the courts to impose that tax,” said Darnell. “It’s noteworthy that these same legislators were quiet as mice when Gov. Richardson line-item vetoed a tax increase in the exact same manner.”

Richardson, a Democrat, rejected a provision last year that would have reinstated a tax on food but he signed other tax increases in the same measure. Richardson contended that provisions of the tax measure appropriated money.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, one of the Democrats suing over the unemployment tax, said the legal challenge was not politically motivated but was to protect the powers of the Legislature and establish a clear precedent on the scope of the governor’s veto powers.

“I think it’s important that the courts have a look at it. The separation of powers is very important,” said Lujan.

If the unemployment fund becomes insolvent as projected for next year, Lujan said, businesses could be hit with a tax increase larger than the one vetoed by Martinez. If the court reinstates the tax rate rejected by the governor, he said, it could end up saving money for businesses.

Under the state Constitution, line-item vetoes can be used only in an appropriations bill in which lawmakers use their power to allocate specific amounts of money for programs and services.

One lawsuit contends the unemployment legislation isn’t an appropriations bill because it doesn’t allocate any specific amount of money.

“Here, what the governor calls an ‘appropriation’ is, in fact, a revenue raising provision, not a revenue spending provision,” the lawsuit said.

The separation of powers doctrine is violated, the lawsuit said, because the veto “distorts and perverts the Legislature’s purpose” in fixing the unemployment fund with a balanced approach of tax increases and benefit reductions.

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May 25, 2011 4:25 p.m.

SANTA FE — Democratic lawmakers are asking the state’s highest court to invalidate partial vetoes by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, including her rejection of higher taxes on businesses to shore up the state’s unemployment compensation fund.

At issue are constitutional questions whether the governor exceeded her line-item veto powers, which permit her to reject portions of legislation.

Two lawsuits were filed Wednesday with the state Supreme Court. A spokesman for Martinez says the governor acted properly.

In one instance, the governor vetoed a $128 million increase in taxes that businesses pay into the unemployment fund. Martinez allowed reductions in jobless benefits in the same legislation to become law.

In the other disputed veto, the governor changed an appropriation in a budget bill from $150,000 to $50,000 for an agency that finances low-income housing.

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May 25, 2011 11:21 a.m. — Lawmakers Suing Governor Over Line-Item Vetoes

SANTA FE — Lawmakers are going to court to challenge line-item vetoes by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, including her rejection of higher taxes on businesses to shore up the state’s unemployment compensation fund.

At issue are constitutional questions about the powers of the governor and Legislature.

Democratic Rep. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque says two lawsuits are to be filed Wednesday with the state Supreme Court.

The governor vetoed a tax increase on businesses but left provisions in the same bill to reduce jobless benefits.

A line-item veto is allowed only with an appropriation bill, and lawmakers say the unemployment bill didn’t allocate money for programs.

The other disputed veto changed an appropriation in a budget bill from $150,000 to $50,000 for an agency that finances low-income housing.

 

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