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Lawmakers send new ‘feed bill’ to governor

SANTA FE – New Mexico lawmakers scrambled Monday to pass an alternative funding bill for legislative session expenses, after Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday evening vetoed a measure that would have also provided emergency funds for the state’s court system.

At issue is pay for roughly 460 legislative session employees, who are slated to receive their paychecks on Friday – but only if a funding bill is approved.

“We need to get them paid,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, on the Senate floor.

Legislators themselves would also not receive per diem payments until a “feed bill” is approved and signed into law by the governor.

New Mexico lawmakers do not receive a salary, but they do get a per diem – currently set at $164 – that’s intended to cover daily food and lodging expenses.

After the governor’s veto sent legislators back to the drawing board, the Senate voted 35-5 Monday to approve an alternative bill that would appropriate roughly $8.6 million for legislative session expenses – or roughly $300,000 less than the bill vetoed by Martinez.

The Democratic-controlled Senate also tacked on to the legislation $800,000 for New Mexico’s court system, which has warned that it might have to begin halting payments for jurors starting in March due to a lack of funds.

However, it did not add other emergency court funding – including $80,000 for the state Supreme Court – that had been included in the bill vetoed by the governor.

In her Friday veto message to legislative leaders, Martinez called the bill she vetoed a “thinly veiled” attempt to increase funding for the Legislature, while using the cash-strapped courts as a cover.

“At a time when some legislators are talking about raising taxes on hardworking families, it is unacceptable to have one branch of government refusing to share the responsibility of reducing government spending,” the two-term Republican governor wrote.

In response, Democrats called the governor’s veto “reckless” and said it could lead to criminal cases being dismissed and defendants being set free.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said Monday that it would be “tragic” if the governor were to once again veto an emergency funding measure sent to her by lawmakers.

“If we keep the judiciary afloat until (the end of the fiscal year), we will be fulfilling one of our main responsibilities,” he said.

The House signed off on the Senate’s changes to the revised bill late Monday, sending it on to the governor’s desk. She will have three days after receiving the bill to act on it.