Governor vetoes capital outlay

SANTA FE (AP) — Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed a $348 million capital outlay package on Wednesday and used his line-item veto powers to reject some legislator-backed projects in a $21 million budget measure.

The governor took his action before a deadline in a dispute with the Legislature over the deadline for signing or vetoing the measures.

The potential showdown with the Legislature came the day before lawmakers were to adjourn the 30-day session.

The Legislature claimed — and the attorney general agreed — the bill deadline was Wednesday evening. Just after 6 p.m., the legislation would “automatically become law,” Attorney General Gary King said.

The governor had contended his deadline was Thursday morning, but he went ahead and acted on the measures before the Wednesday deadline.

The governor’s chief of staff, James Jimenez, said the governor didn’t want the bill deadline dispute to be a distraction from pending issues in the Legislature, particularly health care. He reiterated that the administration viewed the deadline as Thursday.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor, said Richardson vetoed the capital outlay bill because he didn’t have enough time to carefully review the thousands of projects and decide which ones should be funded or rejected.

“It is unreasonable for the Legislature, which took four weeks to pass the capital outlay bill, to demand that the governor review and take action on it in just three days — while simultaneously taking action on the GO bonds, the budget bill and junior budget bills,” said Gallegos. “This political gamesmanship is a disservice to New Mexicans who expect their elected leaders to work together to move the state forward.”

The Legislature had sent Richardson a number of budget and capital improvement measures. The governor signed the main $6 billion budget bill on Tuesday. Pending is a bill that provides bond financing of nearly $224 million in capital improvements, including buildings at colleges and universities. The projects financed by general obligation bonds require the approval of voters in the November general election.

The so-called “junior budget” bill allocates millions of dollars for pet projects of lawmakers and programs earmarked by Richardson.

The governor signed the bill but cut $528,000 with vetoes — all projects earmarked by lawmakers.

The bill, as passed by the Legislature, provided $7 million for projects of House members, $7 million for Senate projects and $7 million for items designated by the governor. Richardson used his line-item veto powers to reject allocations of money for a number of projects.

The Legislature has the option of approving another version of the main capital outlay bill and a measure identical to the vetoed bill is pending in the House. If another bill is approved, the governor would have until early March — 20 days after the Legislature’s adjournment — to act on it.

“There is still sufficient time for the Legislature to present the Governor with a capital projects bill so he will be afforded the opportunity to fulfill his responsibility to New Mexicans to balance the budget in a fair and fiscally responsible manner,” Gallegos said in a statement.

Jimenez said the veto of the capital outlay bill wasn’t a political maneuver to pressure the Senate into passing the governor’s health coverage bill, which already has cleared the House although it’s significantly weakened. The health measure is Richardson’s top priority and he’s threatened a possible special session if lawmakers don’t approve it.

Among the provisions vetoed from the $21 million budget measure were: $33,200 for environmental assessments of public schools; $41,700 for “faith-based programs that support healthy marriage and healthy family living for parents and their children” in Bernalillo County; $41,700 for “healthy family living” programs in Rio Rancho; $10,000 for staff at the Radium Springs community center; $80,000 for a court-appointed special advocates program in Eddy and Lea counties in the 5th Judicial District; and $97,700 for operational expenses in the 12th Judicial District court of Lincoln and Otero counties.