New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez used her veto power Thursday to kill legislation that could have led to more than 700 state buildings getting power from solar, wind or geothermal energy. She also spiked a bill intended to guarantee Santa Fe city government a say in the redevelopment of the Garrett’s Desert Inn property in the city’s downtown historic district. And, as promised, she vetoed two bills that would have raised the statewide minimum wage.
These were among a series of actions announced throughout the day and into the evening as a deadline approached for the governor to sign or veto bills passed during the Legislature’s 2017 regular session.
Senate Bill 227, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, would have required the state government to solicit proposals to power 700 state buildings with renewable energy — as long as the proposals showed a net cost savings and had no upfront costs. The bill received wide bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
In her veto message, Martinez wrote, “It would be impractical and irresponsible to begin issuing requests for proposals before a plan for these renewable energy services is completed.
“Additionally, this process would require additional staff for the General Services Department to effectively establish a plan to provide renewable energy improvements to nearly 750 facilities statewide,” the governor said. “This bill does not provide the resources necessary for the successful development and implementation of such a plan.”
Ben Shelton, legislative director of Conservation Voters New Mexico, said in a news release that the bill “would have saved New Mexican tax payers significant amounts of money in energy savings and health costs incurred by burning fossil fuels. It’s reckless for Gov. Martinez to avoid a common sense savings measure — especially in these difficult financial times — to make a political statement against renewable energy sources.”
Martinez, whose gubernatorial campaigns have received major support from the oil and gas industry, has not been supportive of legislation to foster use of solar and other renewal energy sources. Two years ago, she vetoed a bill that would have extended a tax credit for installing solar energy systems.
However, she did sign House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, which will require solar energy companies to provide more information to potential customers about the cost and energy savings of residential solar systems.
In other action, Martinez vetoed Senate Bill 409, which was introduced to help ensure Santa Fe officials have a role in how the State Land Office redevelops state-owned property located across Old Santa Fe Trail from the State Land Office headquarters. The property currently is home to Garrett’s Desert Inn and the Santa Fe Bite restaurant.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and House Speaker Brian Egolf, both Santa Fe Democrats, would have required local government approval of the redevelopment project. During the legislative session, Wirth told a Senate committee that the bill would prevent construction of a 10-story building on the Garrett’s site that would detract from the surrounding cityscape. Egolf argued that Santa Fe’s distinctive architectural style is one of the main aspects of the city that draws tourists.
Martinez, however, said such a process would “undoubtedly delay, postpone or cancel many projects throughout the state that would better the lives of New Mexicans through safety improvements or economic development.”
The governor’s rejection of House Bill 442, which would have boosted the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 an hour from $7.50, and Senate Bill 386, which would have raised the wage to $9, was not surprising. On the last day of the session, she said she would veto both proposals.
“Members of the New Mexico business community traveled from all over the state to express concern to legislators about the large proposed increase,” she wrote in her veto message for the House bill. “The business community’s concerns ultimately weren’t addressed.”
She criticized the Legislature for passing tax increases and said, “It would make more sense to fully fund and make permanent the Job Training Incentive Program which trains workers for jobs that pay on the average well above $11 an hour.”
During the session, a Martinez spokesman said, “The governor supports raising the minimum wage so long that it’s in line with neighboring states and doesn’t hurt small businesses.” Arizona has a $10-an-hour minimum wage — which will rise to $10.50 next year, while Colorado’s is $9.30 and is scheduled to increase to $10.20 in 2018.
The governor signed House Bill 347, which caps interest rates on small loans at what consumer advocates say is still a usurious rate of 175 percent.
The measure follows a yearslong push to protect low-income New Mexicans from storefront lenders offering quick cash at rates that can climb into quadruple digits.
But amid opposition from lenders, lawmakers blocked a proposal to cap interest rates at the much lower rate of 36 percent. Instead, they passed HB 347, which sponsor Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, argues is at least progress.
Other bills vetoed by the governor Thursday include:
House Bill 85, which called on the Department of Health to set licensing requirements for boarding homes and set up model regulations for local governments to regulate places that often provide a safety net for people with mental illnesses.
House Bill 86, which would have allowed employees who collect sick leave to use that leave to care for family members. “Caregivers serve as an integral and undervalued role in New Mexico,” the governor wrote. “Across the state, caregivers unselfishly give up their time and needs in order to aid their loved ones.” But she added, the bill “is vague and would have significant unintended consequences that would hamper business efficiency and would place undue burdens on businesses.”
House Bill 124, which would have eliminated student performance as a criteria for teacher advancement in the public school system. Martinez wrote that “any attempt to decouple student performance from teacher evaluation or advancement sets us up to fail our students and the teachers who need feedback to serve them best.”
House Bill 125, which would have created a 33-member council to create a new teacher and principal evaluation system. Martinez said the council would only duplicate work already done by the Public Education Department. “It would be irresponsible to enact redundant legislation,” she said. House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored both HB 125 and HB 124, called Martinez’s vetoes “just the latest in a long list of slights against our teachers from the executive that go against our values as New Mexicans of ensuring a high-quality education for all of our kids.”
House Bill 179, which would have required employers to make certain accommodations for pregnant employees. Martinez said that such employees already are covered by several state and federal laws. She said the bill was vague about what related medical conditions would have been covered and how much time off an employee would be allowed. She encouraged employers to work with their pregnant and parenting employees to ensure fairness.
House Bill 266, which would have required people using short-term housing rental services such as Airbnb to pay lodgers taxes, which are charged on regular hotel room bills. Martinez said she vetoed the bill because “tourism in our state is flourishing, and the prevalence of short-term property rentals helps bring more and more people to see what New Mexico has to offer.” Even without the legislation, the cities of Santa Fe and Taos have reached agreements on their own to collect taxes from Airbnb.
House Bill 393, which would have created a special license plate celebrating green chile. For supporters of the bill, the proposal took on urgency when Colorado announced plans for a license plate featuring the Pueblo green chile. But Martinez said she believes a license plate celebrating New Mexico’s renowned peppers should be available to drivers without the additional cost of a specialty plate. She said she directed state agencies to create a standard issue license plate featuring the chile.
Senate Bill 19, which would have helped place foster children removed from their parents in the homes of family members who passed a background check. Martinez said the bill was unnecessary because the state Children, Youth and Families Department is already trying to place children with relatives — which is required by federal regulations.
Senate Bill 80, which would have required the state to coordinate with local and regional emergency medical services to develop and implement triage and transport plans for heart attack patients. Martinez vetoed the measure even though officials from her own Department of Health testified in support of it during committee hearings. The bill passed with no opposition in either the House or Senate. “While this coordination is important, nothing currently prohibits local and regional emergency medical services from doing this voluntarily,” Martinez wrote. Bill sponsor Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, called the veto “beyond reason,” saying the bill could have helped save the lives of over 3,000 New Mexicans.