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Governor’s veto pen has not lost its point

SANTA FE, N.M. — While it might be of little consolation to backers of bills struck down this year by Gov. Susana Martinez, the second-term governor’s veto rate has actually generally declined since she took office in 2011.

And Martinez’s veto proclivity has never approached that of former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, who earned the nickname “Governor Veto” after axing 200 bills in 1995 – or 47 percent of those sent to his desk.

This year, Martinez vetoed 33 of the 191 bills approved by lawmakers during a 60-day session. That number includes both normal vetoes and so-called “pocket vetoes,” which occur when a governor does not act on legislation before the bill-signing deadline.

That veto rate of 17.3 percent was down from 23.5 percent in 2013, the most recent 60-day session, and 34.5 percent in 2011.

Martinez’s veto percentage has been lower during the 30-day legislative sessions that take place in even-numbered years, though the 2014 veto rate – 11 percent – was also down, from 16.9 percent in 2012.

So, what’s the reason for the trend? Has the governor’s veto pen dulled over the years?

An obvious factor this year was the GOP takeover of the state House for the first time in 60 years. That led to a divided Legislature and likely prevented some bills opposed by Martinez and most Republicans – like a marijuana decriminalization measure – from landing on the governor’s desk.

In addition, some Democratic lawmakers have acknowledged a sense of “self-restraint” has stopped legislators from pushing certain bills forward.

For instance, with Martinez’s anti-tax hike stance well-known, fewer and fewer tax increases have been proposed in recent years at the Roundhouse.

It’s also possible the Governor’s Office staffers, no longer executive branch neophytes, have gotten more efficient at reviewing the flood of legislation that typically arrives after lawmakers adjourn and head home.

In her first year as governor, Martinez ended up pocket vetoing 63 bills. This year? Just 18 bills died on the vine at the end of the 20-day signing period.

During a news conference last week on the $6.2 billion budget bill for next year, Martinez referenced the long hours put into studying the features and flaws of bills before a decision is made on whether to sign or veto them.

“There’s a lot of discussion that goes into these things,” the governor told reporters. “These are laws that will be implemented and we sit into the wee hours of the morning working (on reviewing them) and show up first thing in the morning and continue to do so.”

While her veto rate has decreased in recent years, Martinez is hardly shy about exercising her veto authority.

In all, she has now struck down 224 bills from the five regular legislative sessions she’s been in office for. For those counting, that’s a cumulative veto rate of 23.8 percent.

High-profile measures vetoed by Martinez include a 2013 proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 per hour – it’s currently set at $7.50 per hour – and changes proposed last year to the state’s judicial retirement system.

Veto rates can vary widely based on governors and circumstances.

A 2014 review of gubernatorial vetoes in California found that Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger struck down more than 35 percent of approved bills in 2008 – the highest rate in that state’s history.

On the other extreme, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed less than 2 percent of the bills sent to him in 1982. Brown is currently in his second stint as California’s governor, having been elected to office in 2010 and re-elected last year.

Vetoing is an important executive power. While lawmakers generally have the power of the state’s purse strings, the governor acts as a check against the Legislature in that any bill it approves must go through her in order to become law.

Or, as Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat, is fond of saying, “We can propose, and she can dispose.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Dan Boyd can be reached at dboyd@abqjournal.com.

 

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