Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Gov.'s Line-Item Vetoes Criticized
By Dan Boyd
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE — More New Mexico lawmakers, including the Senate's top Republican, are criticizing Gov. Susana Martinez's use of line-item vetoes, although so far there has been no formal challenge.
Questions were first raised last month about whether Martinez overstepped her constitutional authority when she used line-item vetoes to change dollar amounts in the state budget and strike part of an unemployment fund solvency bill.
The line-item vetoes were among the bill actions by the first-term Republican governor after the 60-day session of the state Legislature that ended March 19.
Democratic lawmakers have discussed a court challenge targeting Martinez's vetoes. Members of the Legislative Council criticized the vetoes Monday but stopped short of acting to challenge them.
Legislative leaders think an individual member of the Legislature might end up taking the vetoes to court.
Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, after the Monday meeting of the Legislative Council, said he will ask legislative researchers to report on constitutional guidelines for line-item veto powers.
"I really am trying to gather enough information to understand whether she's violating constitutional principles," McSorley said.
McSorley said he was disappointed that the Legislative Council, which includes top-ranking lawmakers from both political parties, didn't make a unified request for the report.
However, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, both said Monday they're also troubled by the line-item vetoes.
"You're setting a very dangerous precedent here when the (dollar) amounts are changed," Ingle said.
Specifically in question is Martinez's authority to lower, but not fully eliminate, an appropriation in the $5.4 billion budget approved by the Legislature.
In her April 8 bill action, Martinez struck out a single numeral in an appropriation for oversight of the state's regional housing authorities, lowering the funding level from $150,000 to $50,000.
In all, Martinez enacted more than 50 line-item vetoes in the budget bill. She vetoed in their entirety 98 bills that lawmakers passed during the 60-day session.
Martinez has said the vetoes were thoroughly researched by her staff and she's confident they'll be upheld.
When asked two weeks ago about her use of the veto pen, Martinez told reporters, "I feel good about it — that's why I did it."
Ingle and other legislative leaders say they don't recall a governor using line-item vetoes to change dollar amounts in an appropriation bill.