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Friday, May 14, 1999
$21 Million Vetoed in Budget
Governor Cuts Education, Prevents Shutdowns
By Michael Coleman, Loie Fecteau and Wren Propp
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE -- Gov. Gary Johnson cut about $21 million from a $3 billion state budget Thursday as New Mexico lawmakers cleared their desks and headed home after a 10-day special session.
Although he used line-item vetoes to eliminate the $21 million -- about half of it for specific education programs -- Johnson's approval of the remainder of the budget averted possible shutdowns of state government and public schools when this fiscal year ends June 30.
The new budget approved by Johnson increases General Fund spending by about 5 percent.
Other Johnson line-item vetoes included $100,000 for youth suicide prevention programs, more than $700,000 for domestic violence programs and about $210,000 for women's club sports at state colleges and universities.
Johnson complained the budget sent to him by the Democrat-controlled Legislature this week was poorly crafted, saying it shortchanged executive agencies and overspent on education. However, the budget still contains about $76 million in new spending for public schools.
"It's the worst budget I have signed in five years," Johnson said. "I think I took it on the chin in this special session ... and I suggest citizens took it on the chin."
The state's 112 part-time legislators adjourned the special session shortly before 6 p.m.
Democratic majority leaders were frustrated with the Republican governor's vetoes. Johnson was frustrated by what he didn't get from lawmakers, including a different kind of budget, school vouchers and an income tax cut.
Johnson called the lawmakers back to Santa Fe on May 4 after vetoing two budgets earlier this year. Legislators also had rejected his school voucher and tax cut proposals in the earlier session.
Most lawmakers and Roundhouse workers stayed around the Capitol until the end Thursday, for once outnumbering lobbyists.
The special session cost taxpayers about $49,000 a day, an amount that includes $131 in living expenses, or per diem, for the legislators.
Johnson did not veto money for pay raises for state employees or public school teachers.
The education money vetoed included spending for early childhood literacy programs, an alternative education program for dropouts and visual arts education programs.
"I think the message is clear that this administration is at war with public education in the state of New Mexico," said Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque. "Millions and millions were taken out of the public school system by Gary Johnson."
But Senate Minority Leader L. Skip Vernon, R-Albuquerque, complained that lawmakers increased education spending but enacted almost no new reforms.
"At some point, we've got to start changing the system instead of continuing to feed it," Vernon said.
House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, D-Albuquerque, said the vetoed items in the state budget illustrated Johnson's priorities.
"He vetoed a lot of money for children and a lot of money for domestic violence (prevention)," Sanchez said.
Legislators earlier this week voted overwhelmingly to reject Johnson's school voucher plan, but Sanchez and Senate Majority Leader Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, on Thursday urged Johnson to agree to form a task force to study vouchers before the next legislative session.
"I would hope and I would literally beg the governor to sign a task-force bill," Jennings said.
Johnson said he is reconsidering his opposition to a task force because lawmakers agreed to increase the number of people he would be able to appoint.
Johnson said he will accept a compromise with the Legislature over the future of the state parks system.
Democrats pushed a bill to transfer the state parks from the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources to the Tourism Department. Lawmakers later agreed to keep parks where they are until April 2000, but said they would re-evaluate parks management during the next session in January.
In addition to rejecting school vouchers in the special session, legislators shelved Johnson's $25 million personal income tax cut proposal, saying there just wasn't enough money this year.