AP NEWS

New Mexico governor signs more than 250 bills, vetoes 28

April 6, 2019
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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham describes her decision to veto 28 bills out of hundreds approved by the Legislature this year in Santa Fe, N.M., Friday, April 5, 2019. The governor has endorsed sweeping public education reforms and pay increases for public school teachers and state employees. Also Friday, the governor appointed a new leadership team for State Police in the wake of a scandal over charges of discrimination, retaliation and lewd behavior against a police chief under the previous administration. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham embraced a nearly $1 billion infrastructure spending package and enacted a variety of modest tax increases designed to insulate schools and state government from the state’s boom-and-bust oil economy, as time ran out Friday at noon to act on new legislation.

In the final hours, the Democratic governor issued a flurry of 14 vetoes with letters of explanation aimed at keeping policy discussions alive through next year on parole reforms, bicycle safety, home delivery of beer and wine, and salary increases for the state’s top elected officials — including the governor. In all, 28 bills were vetoed.

Nearing the finish, Lujan Grisham also approved a gun control bill aimed at ensuring that people under protective orders for domestic violence relinquish their firearms.

The bill is among several gun safety proposals that encountered opposition from dozens of sheriffs and allied county commissions outside of the state’s major urban areas. Repeated revisions to the bill by lawmakers added a required “credible threat” finding by a court before a gun must be surrendered.

She authorized more than $900 million in direct state spending on capital projects that include a state crime lab and $16 million toward prison facilities. Smaller expenditures run the gamut from an apartment complex for the blind in Alamogordo to electric vehicle charging stations in Santa Fe.

Using her line-item veto authority, Lujan Grisham deleted just one percent of the capital projects viewed as unready and signaled a clean break with the austere budgeting of her Republican predecessor, Susana Martinez.

“This is truly a huge and historic investment,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a signing message. “For the past eight years, projects that are necessary for small, rural and under-resourced communities in New Mexico have gone unfunded.”

The vetoes and final bill signings put a bookend on a furiously busy annual legislative session that ended on March 15 with the approval of sweeping education reforms, redoubled spending on business incentives and approved proposals for pay increases of at least 4% across state government and 6% at public schools. Leading Republicans in the legislative minority complained of being stifled or left out.

Annual spending on public education would increase by about $450 million to $3.2 billion under a general fund spending plan signed by the governor.

Final say on the new administration’s education plan lies with a district court judge.

Responding to a lawsuit by frustrated parents and school districts, Judge Sarah Singleton has outlined the state’s failure to provide adequate educations, especially for poor and minority students.

She set a mid-April deadline to begin evaluating the response from the state Public Education Department.

“I feel incredibly prepared to defend the decisions that we made and incredibly excited about the opportunities that are now presented,” Lujan Grisham said Friday, describing a range of bills she signed.

Lujan Grisham approved most provisions of a bill that will expand taxes on internet sales, nonprofit hospitals, auto sales, e-cigarettes and allows higher income tax rates on upper-income households.

Explaining the rationale for tax increases in a time of state budget surpluses, Lujan Grisham said in a statement that the legislation “helps to diversify general fund revenues, providing a hedge against volatile energy markets on which our state depends.”

She vetoed portions of the bill that might have reduced taxes on tobacco products.

The approved bill increases a tax credit for working families with children to offset effects of the 2017 federal tax overhaul.

Since the end of the legislative session, Lujan Grisham also signed bills to reinforce oilfield regulations, labor rights and the provide state’s first minimum wage increase in a decade, a gradual uptick from $7.50 an hour to $12 by 2023.

State government is poised for expansion, with the authorization by the governor of a new early childhood education agency, a new division for promoting outdoor recreation and agency hiring sprees that include more child protective services workers.