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Judges may challenge Gov.’s veto of pay raises

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s judges are discussing whether to challenge Gov. Susana Martinez’s recent veto of their pay raises for the budget year that begins July 1.

It wasn’t clear as of Friday whether a lawsuit would be filed, or what the legal arguments would be.

“I can say it’s a matter that’s being discussed,” said Arthur Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Martinez vetoed an item from the $6.2 billion state budget passed by the Legislature a month ago that would have hiked judges’ salaries by 8 percent, calling the increase “dramatic.”

The governor said she could have supported a 3 percent increase, which is what teachers and rank-and-file state workers got.

Pepin said the discussions were going on among individual judges and within the associations representing district, magistrate and metropolitan court judges. He said the state Supreme Court, which could end up hearing a challenge, isn’t participating in the discussions.

One possible issue in a lawsuit is language in state law that says the annual salaries of judges – from Supreme Court justices through magistrates – “shall be established by the legislature in an appropriations act.”

That could raise the question of whether the governor has the authority to veto judges’ salary increases from the budget – an issue Pepin said hasn’t been decided by New Mexico courts.

The same language also governs district attorneys’ salaries; Martinez vetoed their 8 percent pay raises, as well.

For other elected officials, the dollar amounts of their salaries are set in statute.

In 2011, Democratic lawmakers went to the Supreme Court and successfully challenged Martinez’s line-item veto of a bill aimed at shoring up the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

Martinez had vetoed the part of the bill that imposed higher payroll taxes on businesses, while leaving intact cuts in jobless benefits for the unemployed.