An attempt to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of higher education and legislative funding landed with a thud in both the House and Senate in the opening moments of the special session of the N.M. Legislature on Wednesday.
An override needed 28 votes in the Senate. It failed on a party-line, 26-15 vote, with all Republicans who were present opposed.
An override needed 45 votes in the House. It failed on a mostly party-line vote of 39-29. Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, was the only Republican to vote with Democrats in favor of the override attempt.
On the Senate floor, Pat Woods, R-Broadview, said there were other ways to address the budget standoff.
“I would certainly encourage members to think there’s another way to do this rather than overriding the governor’s veto — and it might even be a bill that you could craft,” Woods said.
Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, alleged that overriding the veto and approving the funding without a plan to balance the state’s budget already in place would be illegal.
“You’re asking us to take a vote that would violate the Constitution of the State of New Mexico by putting us in the red,” Brandt said to Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who made the motion to override the veto.
Smith disagreed, saying the Senate would also be taking up legislation to boost revenues.
“I believe we’re going to have the votes to support the revenue to support the budget,” Smith said.
The Senate vote against the override attempt came after some Democrats spoke about the challenging situation the veto has created for the state’s public colleges and universities, which don’t currently have an approved budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 or the ability to plan with any certainty. Several university presidents and student body presidents from around New Mexico have spoken out against the veto.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said the uncertainty has caused some students to choose to attend college out of state and harmed professor recruitment efforts.
“The impact that the vetoes have had on our institutes on higher education has been immediate and unfortunately will be lasting,” Papen said.
Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, agreed that the situation is serious.
“This is not just political games. This is real life,” he said. “It’s hurting the economics of the State of New Mexico. It’s hurting our future. It’s putting all of that in jeopardy.”
There was no debate on the override attempt in the House.
An override needed approval of two-thirds of members who were present in both the Senate and House.
Though he voted against the override attempt, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he’s confident the Senate will work out a deal in the next 48 hours.
“We get the job done here. That’s what counts,” Ingle said.