FOR THE RECORD: The timing of when the state House passed its version of a capital outlay bill during the recent legislative session was incorrectly reported in this story. The House’s capital outlay bill was passed 20 minutes before the session ended, and thus did not reach the Senate until minutes later.
Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday she has no plans to hold a special session of the state Legislature to address the absence of a capital improvements budget unless Democratic Senate leadership is willing to work with her ahead of time on key points.
Otherwise, “I don’t expect a different result,” the Republican governor told about 540 business people at a luncheon of NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association.
“That was extremely disappointing to watch,” she said of lawmakers’ failure to pass a capital outlay bill that would have funded $264 million in roads, senior centers, public buildings and other infrastructure improvements. “It was emblematic of the most partisanship I’ve seen in my time as governor.”
However, she said if Democratic leaders in the Senate commit to working with her to develop and pass a capital outlay bill, she would consider a special session. Without that commitment, Martinez said, there was no point in holding one.
A proposed capital outlay bill died in the Senate in large part due to bipartisan differences over how to fund transportation-related projects. The Republicans generally favored using long-term debt like bonds to pay for highway projects, while Democrats favored increasing taxes at the gas pump to fund them.
“I’ve heard it’s not responsible to use bonds for roads because the state takes on more debt. That doesn’t make sense,” Martinez said, adding that long-term debt for improved infrastructure provides long-term value to the state.
A recurring theme in Martinez’s address at the Uptown Marriott was the gridlock she said was imposed on the Legislature by Senate Democratic leaders. In terms of the number of bills passed in a 60-day session, 2015 was the least productive since 1949.
“When you take politics away and you do the right thing for the right reason, everybody is a winner,” Martinez said.
In a column appearing in Monday’s Journal, Senate Democratic floor leader Michael S. Sanchez accused the governor of making “false accusations” about Senate leaders.
He noted that the Senate approved a version of the capital outlay bill by a bipartisan vote of 40-1. But the governor and the Republican majority in the House passed a different version and sent it to the Senate the day before the legislative session ended on March 21. The House’s version of the budget still contained the sticking point of bond funding, he said.
Martinez did list several business-oriented accomplishments from the session, including a “closing fund” of $37.5 million, which is used as an incentive in economic development. The closing fund would have been higher at $50 million if the capital outlay bill hadn’t died.
But the $37.5 million was significant, she said.
“We had virtually no closing fund when I took office (four years ago),” she said. “I promise you it makes us far more competitive because every other state has one.”
But she blamed the Democratic Senate leaders for blocking several other key proposals, including a bill to hold back third-graders who have difficulty reading, right-to-work legislation and an increase in the state’s minimum wage during the regular session.
During her address, Martinez took a break to sign House Bill 170, which changes how the Higher Education Endowment Funds works to encourage universities to recruit top researchers and educators. The changes are aimed at making state universities more competitive in getting funding for endowed chairs in technology-heavy fields such as science and engineering. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, who was on hand for the signing.
“New Mexico has extraordinary potential to be a knowledge and innovation leader in the world,” the governor said.
The governor also credited Larrañaga, as chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, with helping lead the effort to craft a budget that, despite limited revenues, provides additional funding for education initiatives, including fighting truancy and salary increases for many teachers, and Children, Youth and Families Department programs, such as child advocacy support centers.