By Matthew Reichbach
On Wednesday, Governor Susana Martinez lost another case before the New Mexico Supreme Court. This one involved the state’s high court telling the Governor that vetoing a single digit from an appropriation, in this case slashing a $150,000 to $50,000, overstepped her authority as laid forth by the state Constitution.
The illegal veto would have slashed money appropriated to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. Two state Senators and two members of the state House of Representatives filed suit to invalidate the veto.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for our constitution and the people of New Mexico,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Silver City, said in a joint statement following the Supreme Court’s decision. “The principle of separation of powers is the cornerstone of our government. The balance of power is equally divided among the three branches of government and the court’s decision reaffirmed this by preserving the legislature’s exclusive appropriating authority.”
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Martinez’s veto.
Reps. Luciano “Lucky” Varela of Santa Fe and Henry “Kiki” Saavdera of Albuquerque were also party to the lawsuit and the four legislators split the cost of bringing the lawsuit.
“The Court has now given guidance that the only way for the governor to prevent these types of excessive spending measures is to veto the entire amount,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said according to Reuters. “The governor is hopeful that the Legislature will work with her to prevent such vetoes from becoming necessary in the future.”
This isn’t the first setback in the Supreme Court by the Republican governor.
Martinez has not had much luck with the state’s high court, losing three rulings including one on slashing regulations and another on her decisions involving the state labor board. The state ruled unanimously that Martinez exceeded her authority in removing two members of the Public Employee Labor Relations Board.
Martinez defended her vetoes by noting that governors had previously used similar line-item vetoes. These were 70 years ago and were not challenged at the time.
The Supreme Court did not make a decision on another lawsuit that Martinez is facing over one of her vetoes. The lawsuit contends that Martinez’s line-item veto of the portions of an unemployment insurance bill that raise revenue is illegal. The six lawmakers filing suit against Martinez argue that the bill does not appropriate money and therefore cannot be line-item vetoed.
The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Commerce and Industry both backed the bill that would stave off insolvency in the state’s unemployment fund. Already most states in the country have seen their unemployment funds go broke.