Governor’s Vetoes & Executive Actions Point to Systemic Problem, Dysfunctional Checks & Balances

Today we look at the implications of line-item vetoes, pocket vetoes, and the Governor’s control of policy and disregard of democratic processes in NM, including the re-emergence of the Avangrid-PNM merger and the Governor advancing a plan for Avangrid (!) to manage the coming hydrogen hub. One way or another, she seems to get what she wants. What can we do?

Huddle Up

Weds., April 12, 6 – 7 p.m. We’ll wrap-up our discussion of the 2023 Session, including updates on health security, public banking, and local choice energy as well as the impact and implications of the Governor’s vetoes. We’ll also continue our discussion about climate change inaction and where we go from here. Join us to discuss options. Register at this link.

Holy Smokes, Batman. Democracy is Disappearing in NM…

While what transpires in Texas, Florida, and other Red states is far more egregious and dangerous than what we face here in NM, when you have a session where legislators pass no meaningful climate legislation but do pass tax credits to support electric vehicle acquisition and energy storage systems, only to have them vetoed by a supposedly progressive Democratic Governor, you have to scratch your head and ask: What gives? Let’s hear from the Governor, first from the New Mexican:

“There will be a cooling of the economy, and I don’t want to even say that out loud, and maybe I’m wrong,” she said.

In an executive message on the tax bill, the governor wrote it had “many laudable tax reform measures,” but she had “grave concerns” whether the package as a whole was sustainable long term.

“HB 547’s tax cuts will impact our ability to fund important services and programs that our citizens depend on, such as education, healthcare, public safety and education,” she wrote. 

Santa Fe New Mexican: Lujan Grisham strips tax package but leaves rebates intact,” April 7, 2023

The holes in the Governor’s logic are gaping. How exactly does vetoing pitifully small tax credits for the purchase or lease of electric vehicles jeopardize our education system? What those tax credits would have done was to make E-vehicles more affordable for low and moderate income New Mexicans instead of being largely available only to the wealthy. What’s more, as reported by Pete Dinelli, the Governor noted: “I just want us to be more pragmatic. …  I didn’t think it was prudent to do it all at once.”

This ignores the fact that it has taken a decade for the legislature to tackle reducing the most regressive of all NM taxes, the Gross Receipts Tax. And the measure vetoed was to reduce the GRT from 4.875% to 4.375% over a four-year period. This is hardly imprudent or being done “all at once.” What is imprudent and being done all at once is a universal rebate of $500 per tax payer or $1,000 per tax-paying couple going to everyone, with no effort to target relief to those most in need.

To her credit, she didn’t touch the most impactful tax measure, the child tax credit, which was tripled to $600 per child per year, potentially lifting tens of thousands of children out of poverty. The Governor also didn’t veto the $650K in junior money funding to continue work on the Health Security design work, with Retake and others worried she would redline veto those funds. What’s more, aside from the five climate-focused tax credits vetoed, the Gov. didn’t veto any of the bills Retake supported that made it to her desk.

All things considered, if you ignore climate change — something Dem. leadership at state and national levels is quite good at — we did reasonably well during the session. But the session also revealed some highly undemocratic processes in need of change. We want to pay legislators and have extended sessions, but we still need rules that foster reflective law-making and democratic processes. Read on!

Fixes Needed to Our How We Govern

Easier Path to Overriding Vetoes

To have a bill pass through four committees and two floor votes with few dissenting votes and then be vetoed by the Governor, as was the case with the five climate-focused tax credits, you create fear in the legislature and disenfranchise constituents who engage with the legislative process. If this vote occurred in Washington, D.C., a sitting Congress could vote to override the veto within a few days by simply introducing the vetoed bill and securing a 2/3 vote in both chambers. Ditto if this occurred in Sacramento, CA. But in NM the options are slim, forbidding, and hence almost never occur. To override a veto here, legislators must:

  • secure 60% of votes in each chamber to call an “extraordinary session.” This is so difficult to achieve, it was last done in the Johnson administration; or
  • start over next session, reintroduce the bill, and hope the Gov sees things differently, as that bill could pass unanimously through each committee and chamber floor hearing and still be vetoed again.

There is a simple fix here. Set a date when passing legislation is over and without ending the session, send legislators home for a two-week break, and allow the Governor ten days to sign or veto bills. When legislators return, they either adjourn the session or consider veto overrides. No extraordinary session needed, just routine democratic legislative process. This would require a constitutional amendment, but given that joint resolutions to modernize the legislature failed this year, there is ample time to revise those proposed constitutional amendments to lengthen sessions and include this provision. Once in place, the mere potential of a quick, public override would serve to deter Governors from vetoing bills that sailed through the legislature with strong bi-partisan support.

Ban the Pocket Veto

At least with the standard veto, the Gov. is required to offer a message as to why a bill is being vetoed. With the Pocket Veto, the Gov just does nothing, let’s the clock run out, and lets bills die without explanation. A better process would be if the Governor does nothing, the bill becomes law, as is the practice in Colorado. No escape hatches. If you oppose something passed in the legislature, veto it with a message explaining why. Otherwise, make it law.

Executive Actions Need a Fix

There are certainly times when executive actions are necessary, but they can be abused. After a total rebuke on hydrogen during the 2022 session, the Governor signed MOUs with Sandia and LANL to initiate research on hydrogen production, clearly directed the Environment Dept. to vigorously pursue hydrogen production, and joined the Western Interstate Hydrogen Hub with Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Before the session began, Secretary Kinney proudly proclaimed, “Here at the Environment Dept. we are all about hydrogen, 24-7.” All of this despite repeated votes opposing hydrogen production in any form. To make matters worse, the resulting hydrogen hub federal grant project is set to be directed by Avangrid, as decided by who knows who and with no public discussion, debate, or input.

When considered alongside the dark money-funded campaign to remove the elected PRC and replace it with Commissioners hand-picked by the Governor, we are clearly trending toward a very strong executive branch and a highly constrained legislature, which is not good for democracy. It is damn near impossible to secure a meeting with the Governor. I was told by one legislator that even cabinet secretaries have a hard time meeting with the Governor, that she is surrounded by political advisors, not content advisers, and her decisions are inherently influenced more by politics than by research. The same legislator told me that the only way to understand the Governor’s actions is to think about what her large donors want.

So, we have three-and-a-half more years with this governor, and to be clear, it could be worse, but it should be much better, easier, and transparent. We have a strongly Democratic majority in both chambers and a Democratic Governor. This should be our time to get bold stuff done. So what to do with the next three years?

  • Start exploring 2026 Dem. candidates for Governor, sooner rather than later, so that some moderate, big-name, establishment Dem doesn’t announce and crowd out the field. More than anything, we need a Governor who will lead on climate. No mincing of words, NM is in a tough spot with so much of our revenue being generated by the deadly extractive industry. We need real leadership with passionate, deeply-felt commitment to climate action, not a candidate who once elected, backs off on jumpstarting the transition and heeds words of caution from NMOGA while disregarding cries of concern from YUCCA, Retake, NEE, Indivisible, and so many others. Any candidates come to mind? Offer them up in a comment at the end of the post.
  • We also need a handful of climate zealots as legislators. Who should be challenged in 2024? Should we begin to use votes on climate legislation as threshold votes, as we did with reproductive rights’ votes in challenging a handful of powerful moderate Democratic Senators in 2020. And what a difference that made. Is it time to repeat that effort in 2024 when all our legislators will be up for re-election? Do you have thoughts on which legislators should be primaried? If so, offer up names and reasons with a comment below. Let’s begin making plans. If legislators feel threatened by a possible primary challenge in 2024, they may be a whole lot more responsive to constituents in the 2024 session.

Limiting the number of Bills Introduced Each Session

Certainly there are other changes that need to occur. Placing a limit on the number of bills is a start. Limiting legislators to introducing 5 bills a session would force them to prioritize, reducing the number of frivolous bills introduced, cutting the number of bills introduced in half, and allowing more time for due deliberation on important bills.

Rethinking how memorials are managed is another. There is a place for levity (state aroma?) and for sincere appreciation with memorials honoring long-serving public servants, teachers of the year and the like. These are things that serve a purpose but they can also serve as a means of consuming crucial time.

That’s all for today. If you haven’t registered for tonight’ s huddle, when we will discuss much of the above, register at this link.

In solidarity & hope,

Paul & Roxanne

Categories: Local-State Government & Legislation

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1 reply

  1. Perhaps the current chair of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Matthew McQueen? He has experience and always presents as reasonable, thoughtful and fair. I get the impression Eric Griego would not be interested in the position but one could hope otherwise. Bernalillo Mayor Jack Torres? He’s guided the town through many changes and challenges while maintaining a positive welcoming attitude. I don’t know enough about Derrick Lente but I was impressed and grateful for the times he showed up to speak against some horrible positions being put forward by the Sandoval County Commission. He’s also young and Native. Harold Pope, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Benny Shendo Jr., Katy Duhigg….

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