'Now she’s saying we haven’t lost enough jobs is what I’m hearing' - Sen. John Arthur Smith
Susana Calls Legislature’s Budget ‘Reckless’
Raises Possibility of State Government Furloughs
BY NEW MEXICO IN DEPTH STAFF
The 2017 legislative session wrapped up at noon Saturday, but the work appears far from over.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on March 18 said she would call state lawmakers back in for a special session after the Democratically controlled Legislature had failed to give her a responsible budget. .
Exactly when she wouldn’t say.
Calling a $6.1 billion spending plan and $350 million tax package the Legislature had sent her “reckless” and “irresponsible,” the governor spoke of a looming government shutdown and of potentially furloughing state workers.
“Many in the Legislature failed to do their job during the session. They took a my way or the highway approach and they actually squandered 60 days,” Martinez told a group of reporters shortly after the session gaveled to a close. “Now we’re staring down the path of a government shutdown.”
Senate Democratic leaders didn’t take kindly to Martinez’s characterization of them, however, and one — Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee — sarcastically responded to the governor’s threat of furloughing New Mexico state workers.
“That is the executive’s prerogative that she can exercise if she wants to give up additional jobs in the state of New Mexico,” Smith said. “We’ve lost 3,000 jobs in higher education in the last three years. We’ve lost over 6,000 in southeast New Mexico. We’ve lost 1,600 jobs on the behavior health deal. Now she’s saying we haven’t lost enough jobs is what I’m hearing. The last thing we need is more job loss.”
New Mexico’s unemployment rate for January was the highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The governor has 20 days from Saturday to take action on the budget and tax package, as well as other pieces of legislation that passed the Legislature.
Several of those non-financial bills the governor will be deliberating in coming days would modernize campaign finance disclosure laws while raising campaign contribution limits for lawmakers. Another would eliminate the practice of payday lending.
A third would restrict the use of solitary confinement. State lawmakers also passed legislation that closed a loophole created in 2016 that allowed lobbyist to avoid reporting much of their spending on lawmakers and other public officials.
Bills to reform the parole process, to fund early childhood education at greater levels, and to legalize adult recreational use of cannabis fared less well.
Here’s a look at some of those bills New Mexico In Depth covered during the session and how they fared.
Ethics: Independent commission goes to voters
After multiple meetings Friday, both chambers of the Legislature agreed late in the evening to adopt a compromise agreement on House Joint Resolution 8. It might sound arcane, but with that action, the Legislature did something it has never done before: Pass an independent ethics commission proposal.
It was a historic moment. If voters decide during next year’s general election to enshrine an independent ethics commission in the New Mexico Constitution, New Mexico would join more than 40 other U.S. states that already have an ethics commission.
The commission, which could issue subpoenas, would investigate and prosecute ethics complaints filed against public officials, state contractors and lobbyists, among others.
The Legislature’s action Friday came after HJR 8’s charted a relatively easy path through the Legislature compared to the obstacle-rich route similar proposals have confronted over the years. This session was the first time in memory that an ethics commission proposal received an up-or-down vote in the Senate. That chamber has earned a reputation as the killing field for ethics legislation.
The Legislature left for the 2019 session debates over details such as how to fund the commission and how it will operate should the constitutional amendment pass next year.
HJR 8 originally contained language that would have required the independent ethics commission to weigh evidence and rule on complaints in public hearings and to make public all ethics complaints it receives, as well as responses from the accused. But the Senate stripped that language.
Campaign finance: Greater transparency and increased contribution limits
Bills to update the state’s campaign finance laws, last adopted in 2009, are on Gov. Susana Martinez’s desk.
Her staff hasn’t given any indication that she’ll sign Senate Bill 96 or 97, and this week’s spate of Senate bill vetoes doesn’t bode well.
SB 96 would update the Campaign Finance Act to address the proliferation of unlimited election fundraising and spending by independent groups since a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision. It would require any groups making independent campaign expenditures before primary or general elections to report the source of their money.
But the bill also doubles campaign contribution limits for lawmakers to $5,000 each for primary and general elections.
That was part of a compromise with some lawmakers who wanted to lift such limits and allow lawmakers to return to taking unlimited cash from donors.
Previous attempts to do this received unanimous Senate approval but never made it to the House floor. That changed this session, as the House approved the measure in a bipartisan vote.
The second bill, SB 97, makes revisions to the public financing laws for judges and public regulation commissioners.
A next step could be just as significant to clarification of New Mexico’s campaign finance disclosure practices.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver plans to draw up rules to enforce the law, something that had never happened previously.