SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – During the 2023 legislative session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed large portions of an omnibus tax bill passed by lawmakers. Now, a Democratic representative is asking a court to declare the governor’s actions unconstitutional.
State Representative Miguel P. García (D-Abq.) brought the legal action in the New Mexico Supreme Court on September 6, 2023. García enlisted the help of lawyer and former New Mexico Senator Jacob Candelaria to file a petition regarding House Bill 547.
“H.B. 547 is a tax bill. It is not a bill that appropriates money, and the governor cannot line-item veto a single word from the bill. The governor exceeded her limited line-item veto authority by striking the vast majority of the bill, including tax proposals that would exempt more Social Security retirement income from State Income Tax,” Candelaria said in a press release.
The tax bill was a big focus during the most recent lawmaking session. At over 100 pages long, the bill attempted to change the state’s income tax brackets, make a single corporate income tax rate, and offer credits to a range of workers, among other things. Officials were calling the bipartisan effort the most comprehensive tax reform in recent years.
But when it hit the governor’s desk, Lujan Grisham vetoed large portions, including the proposed changes to the state’s income tax brackets. In a message to the legislature, she explained her reasoning: “Although HB 547 has many laudable tax reform measures, I have grave concerns about the sustainability of this tax package as a whole. 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 infrastructure,” she wrote.
The governor’s message did note that she kept portions of the bill that she supported: “I am not vetoing the portions of HB 547 that give New Mexicans one-time tax rebates, increase the child income tax credit, increase the benefits of the film tax credit, and expand the health practitioners gross receipts tax deduction. These measures align with my commitment to support working families, the healthcare system, and our economy. I believe that these portions of the bill are necessary and beneficial, and I am pleased to support them.”
KRQE News 13 reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the request to have the New Mexico Supreme Court cancel the vetoes. Caroline Sweeney, the governor’s press secretary, replied with a statement: “We take lawsuits filed against our office seriously and respect New Mexicans’ right to use the judicial system when seeking change. We anticipate, however, that this suit will be dismissed after review by a judge.”
The New Mexico Constitution says the governor can veto entire bills and can ” . . .approve or disapprove any part or parts, item or items, of any bill appropriating money . . .” That language is exactly what the petition argues prevents the Governor from vetoing portions of the tax bill.
“House Bill 547 does not appropriate money, and thus the governor cannot constitutionally line-item veto a single word from the bill,” Candelaria told KRQE News 13. Candelaria argues that although the bill does mention money, such as the tax rebate checks approved by lawmakers, there’s a separate law that actually appropriates those funds.
It’s not clear when the New Mexico Supreme Court will act on the issue. A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts noted that the court is under no time obligation to move forward with the request under Rule Set 12 of the state’s court procedures.