Updated: Thursday, 09 Apr 2009, 1:13 PM MDT
Published : Thursday, 09 Apr 2009, 12:23 AM MDT
SANTA FE (KRQE) - The legal advice that has the governor waffling on new limits for state salary and pension double dippers remains secret as attorney-client privilege, Attorney General Gary King said Wednesday.
In this case, as Gov. Bill Richardson decides whether to sign a bill passed by the Legislature, the AG is acting as the governor's lawyer.
"Because of the potential threatened litigation we are bound by legal ethics to keep our advice to the governor as attorney client privilege," King told KRQE News 13.
King confirmed that lawyers for some state employees affected by the bill have contacted him about the legal issues. He filled Richardson in on the objections but has not advised him on whether to veto the bill, King said.
The bill would extend to one year the time a state employee must wait after retiring before returning to work and drawing both a state salary and a state pension. The law would cap the state paycheck at $30,000 a year.
Currently a state worker must sit out 90 days, and there is no cap on the salaries. A recent report by KRQE News 13 investigative reported show how some public employees were ignoring the 90-day rule and not even bothering to clean out their offices.
Richardson had said he would sign new limits, but that was before the Legislature produced a final version of the bill.
King did say that he told the governor that if there were a lawsuit over the new rules, there's no guarantee the state would win.
"If the state were involved in protracted litigation it might actually cost taxpayers a lot in litigation expenses.” King said.
State Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill and said Tuesday a court fight is OK with him.
"If it's got legal questions the only way to find out is for the governor to sign the bill and let someone challenge it," Varela said in an interview. "Let's see who is going to challenge it, and if it gets challenged then the AG would have to defend the state and the governor.
"The courts would ultimately make that decision."
On Wednesday Varela told News 13 he's disappointed the AG is still not explaining what the legal questions are.
He also said this bill was so important that the AG's office should have been involved during its drafting.
Varela said he's not mad at anyone but is passionate about doing what's right for taxpayers.
For his part King said he's not against limits on double dipping but thinks this bill needs revising. He also said there are several double dippers in his office although that is not bearing on his advice to the governor.
Richardson has until Friday to sign bill passed by the recent session of the Legislature.