New Mexico’s governor vetoes bills on judicial pensions, public financing of judicial elections

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has issued several vetoes affecting the state’s judiciary in the last several days (h/t Gavel Grab for the pointer).

On the pension side, Gov. Martinez vetoed SB 25, which would have changed the age and service credit requirements and pension calculations for the judicial retirement system and magistrate retirement system. SB 25 altered cost of living adjustments, employee and employer contribution rates, and provided a new benefit structure starting in July 2013.

In her veto message Gov. Martinez noted

Although there is no doubt that these funds are in dire condition, this legislation does not fairly or adequately solve the problem. Instead, this bill seeks to address the deficiencies in the judicial retirement fund through an increase in taxpayer contributions while failing to address the serious challenges facing the magistrate retirement fund. Even with optimistic projections, this plan only delays the magistrate fund’s eventual bankruptcy.

The second veto of note was of changes to the state’s public financing for judicial elections (SB 16), changes made necessary because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McComish v. Bennett. SB 16 ended the practice of basing matching funds on the spending of a non-qualified opponent and instead based it on the amount of contributions collected by a qualified candidate.

In her veto message Gov. Martinez doubted the constitutionality of the new scheme and also opened up the possibility of reexamination of the state’s judicial selection system (a form of merit selection combined with partisan elections).

[I]t is entirely unclear that this proposed legislation is constitutional and allowing publicly-financed candidates, including judges, to raise an unlimited number of $100 contributions flies in the face of the intent of the law.

We need a broad, ground up reform of the entire judicial election system. We have the unusual procedure of using a bi-partisan judicial nominating commission process with an immediate open partisan election system. I encourage the Legislature to consider broadly reforming our election system when it comes to judges and am willing to address the issue of public-financing reforms in that overall context.

Because New Mexico’s legislature has adjourned sine die there appears to be no way to override the vetoes unless the legislature calls itself back into extraordinary session.

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