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Court Throws Out Gov.’s Line-Item Veto

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Supreme Court struck down one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s line-item vetoes Wednesday, siding with legislators who objected and rejecting the governor’s attempt to change a dollar amount in the state’s budget bill.

Top-ranking Democratic lawmakers contended Martinez overstepped her constitutional authority with the line-item veto in April, which reduced funding for oversight of regional housing authorities from $150,000 to $50,000.

The legislators applauded Wednesday’s ruling, which restored the original amount approved by the Legislature, claiming it clarified the balance of power in state government.

“I think the court saw that the appropriating authority really belongs to the Legislature,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe.

Martinez’s attorneys said they were disappointed by the ruling.

“On more than one occasion, governors have done even more than this governor did,” Martinez’s general counsel, Jessica Hernandez, told the court, referring to previous line-item vetoes that changed appropriation amounts.

The unanimous Supreme Court ruling Wednesday marked the third time since Martinez took office at the start of 2011 that the court has ruled against her.

In April, the Supreme Court ordered the immediate reinstatement of two members of the state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board who had been dismissed by Martinez. That followed a January ruling in a case brought by environmental groups that ordered a controversial greenhouse gas emissions regulation be published in the State Register.

Meanwhile, Martinez’s firing of the former head of the state Workers’ Compensation Administration was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In the line-item veto case, Albuquerque attorney Shane Youtz, hired by the four Democratic lawmakers, said Martinez’s line-item veto, if upheld, would create a dangerous precedent.

Justice Richard Bosson sharply questioned Hernandez’s suggestion that the court disregard the possible implications of the governor’s veto.

“If this becomes the law, why wouldn’t the governor go through (the budget bill) and make whatever changes he or she wants?” Bosson asked. “If I was the governor, that’s what I would do.”

Attorney General Gary King sided with the legislators in the case.

Martinez has contended the $150,000 for regional housing authority oversight was excessive and ill-conceived. The appropriation represented a steep increase from last year’s $30,000 funding amount but was less than the $250,000 appropriated in 2009.

Disputes between the two branches of government over constitutional authority and the power over the purse strings have sprung up periodically in recent state history.

In the challenge to Martinez’s line-item veto of the housing authority money, legislators cited a 1974 case in which some of Gov. Bruce King’s line-item vetoes were the subject of a largely successful court challenge by a Republican state senator, Bill Sego of Albuquerque.

“The power of partial veto is the power to disapprove,” the court said in 1974. “This is a negative power. It is not the power to enact or create new legislation by selective deletions.”

The Supreme Court also heard arguments Wednesday in a separate challenge to another of Martinez’s line-item vetoes but didn’t render an immediate decision.

A ruling on that case, in which Martinez vetoed a section of a bill calling for $128 million in higher contribution rates from businesses into the state’s unemployment fund, is expected in the next several weeks, Hernandez said.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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