A push among state lawmakers to convene an extraordinary session to override Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s veto of a $50 million bill gained traction Thursday, creating a possible political liability for the incumbent Democrat as she campaigns for a second term.
Saying there is “great concern” in the Senate Democratic caucus over the governor’s veto of the so-called junior bill — which would fund an array of initiatives across the state in a year when the state expects record-high revenues — a spokesman for the Senate Majority Office said Democrats would be meeting soon to discuss their options.
House Republicans were scheduled to caucus late Thursday.
Convening an extraordinary session, intended to address an emergency, requires support from three-fifths of the lawmakers in each chamber of the Legislature — 42 members of the House and 25 senators.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, a Republican from Belen, first called for an extraordinary session Wednesday when Lujan Grisham unveiled several vetoes, including the junior bill. Since then, Democrats have joined in the push for a veto override.
Rep. Patty Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the influential House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said she was “incredibly disappointed” in the governor’s veto of the junior bill, also known as Senate Bill 48, which passed both chambers unanimously. “Those were all very good projects, both on the House and the Senate side, and I hope we do something about it,” Lundstrom said.
Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, also supports efforts to override the governor’s veto. “I don’t understand why the political fight would want to be taken,” he said.
In a news release, Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Velarde, said the governor’s actions will have “grave and consequential” impacts on seniors; youth; rural and tribal communities; veterans; and nonprofits.
“As an unpaid legislator, my team and I drove thousands of miles over the last year, met with leaders from every community that I represent in District 40 — a district that spans 6,000 square miles — and together we identified programs and needs where junior money would have significant and immediate impacts to enrich the lives of my constituents,” said Montoya, who is facing a conservative Democratic challenger in the June primary election.
“In total,” he said, “$360,000 of junior funding that my communities were counting on are gone in the stroke of a pen.”
Other Democratic lawmakers said they’re still considering the matter. “I’m certainly disappointed, but I never had to entertain a veto override in my career,” said Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, who has been a senator for 10 years. “I think a little thought has to go into this in terms of what that means and where my colleagues are.”
Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said he doesn’t support an extraordinary session.
“I don’t believe that this topic rises to the occasion of an extraordinary session as it relates to our constitution and our constitutional responsibility,” Padilla said, adding, “The extraordinary session is for things that are detrimental to ongoing operations, and the junior bill … to me, doesn’t meet that standard.”
However, Padilla said the matter could be part of a special session if one is called by the governor, who said earlier this week her administration was “contemplating a number of ideas” to deal with rising gasoline prices, including proposals that may require legislative action.
In an executive message to lawmakers, Lujan Grisham said the junior bill circumvents the usual budget and capital outlay vetting process and that she was “unconvinced” the distribution of more than $50 million for various projects “upholds principles of fiscal responsibility” or represented a wise investment as a whole. In some cases, Lujan Grisham wrote, projects were not fully funded.
Lundstrom disputed the governor’s claim the projects weren’t properly vetted and said the bill included money in some cases for planning and design, or the first phase of a project, rather than full funding.
“If they hadn’t been vetted, how would [the governor] know that?” Lundstrom asked. “C’mon now. Give me a break. … I think legislators know what’s best in their own darn communities, and they should be able to fund some of those smaller projects.”
She added, “There are very specific guidelines that are given to the members before they put the request in. There is absolutely vetting and guidance on this. It’s not just throwing a dart at a dartboard.”
Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, said there is less oversight of junior bill funding than capital outlay, which gives lawmakers an opportunity to provide funds for local infrastructure projects. But, she said, legislators know the needs of their districts.
“The six projects that I supported are projects that I’m deeply familiar with. I know people who’ve benefited from them. I know people who would benefit from them,” she said.
While Garratt said an extraordinary session may be “a good thing,” she said she wants to hear the pros and cons before making a final decision.
“What’s frustrating is that we were given a legislative go-ahead and then, after working with people closely, it’s been vetoed,” she said.
Lawmakers said staff in the Governor’s Office had been contacting them to find out whether they would support an extraordinary session.
“I received some phone calls from the Governor’s Office, trying to justify the action” of the veto, Lente said. “But at this point, action has been done. I mean, what was there to justify other than these conversations should have happened months ago?”
Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque, who switched the party affiliation on his voter registration late last year from Democratic to “decline to state,” said the junior bill veto could cost Lujan Grisham in November.
“I think there are only downsides here, which begs the question why the governor chose to take such a dramatic and retaliatory action in the middle of an election year,” said Candelaria, who has been critical of Lujan Grisham.
“This erodes a lot of trust that the governor had with many rank-and-file Democrats,” he added.
Candelaria said the veto “at least pulls the curtain back” on Lujan Grisham’s character. He described her as “a political animal.”
The governor’s press secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, wrote in an email, “The governor’s responsibility is to ensure that New Mexico’s investments directly and meaningfully benefit New Mexicans while maintaining fiscal responsibility, given the once-in-a-generation revenue we have available.”
Fiscal responsibility ensures programs are funded properly with consistent and recurring appropriations, she wrote.
Sackett listed a number of investments Lujan Grisham supported in the state’s nearly $8.5 billion budget she signed into law Wednesday.
Raúl E. Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said he could neither confirm nor deny whether his office has received a request to develop or assist in the development of a petition to convene an extraordinary session.
“In the past when this process has been used, either one certificate or individual certificates are circulated to the members of both chambers. The certificate should state that in the opinion of the members who sign, an emergency exists in the affairs of the state,” he wrote in an email.
If three-fifths of the members in each chamber sign on, the governor is mandated within five days, excluding Sundays, to convene the Legislature in extraordinary session. If the governor fails to do so, the Legislature may convene itself, Burciaga wrote.
An extraordinary session is open “for all purposes” and cannot exceed 30 days.