By Steve Terrell: The Santa Fe New Mexican
For the second day in a row, the state Senate has voted overwhelmingly to override a veto by Gov. Bill Richardson of a bill passed last year.
The Senate voted 34 to 4 Tuesday to override Richardson’s veto of Senate Bill 460 from last year’s session. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, would change the membership makeup of the scandal-plagued State Investment Council, giving the Legislature more influence and the governor less.
“The message is that we want some transparency (on the SIC),” Neville told reporters after the vote. He said the state needs to instill more confidence in the SIC, which manages more than $12 billion of state money — and which has been at the center of a federal investigation in recent months.
Support for the override spanned the political spectrum. Voting in favor of the override were all Senate Republicans as well as a wide majority of Senate Democrats, including some of the most liberal and the most conservative.
But this override, as well as the Monday’s override of Richardson’s veto of SB 531, a bill requiring agencies to provide a legislative committee with confidential material related to governmental programs, is expected to have a much harder time in the House. That chamber is controlled by Richardson’s most faithful ally, House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe. In the past, House Democrats have been reluctant to buck the powerful speaker.
Lujan on Tuesday said he didn’t know whether the House would vote on the override. “We’ll send it to committees and we’ll talk about it in (Democratic) Caucus,” he told reporters.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who voted for both veto overrides this week, said he thinks the Senate actions might put pressure on House members to follow suit.
Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos issued a statement soon after the vote that said, “The governor has worked in good faith with the Senate. If some senators want to play political games, that’s their prerogative. Hopefully, the House will see through the political gamesmanship and continue to focus, like the governor, on a solution to the budget deficit and a sensible restructuring of the State Investment Council.”
Although he vetoed SB 460 — by not signing it — Richardson has since agreed to consider signing such a bill and sent a message to allow the issue to be considered. This is a necessary step for bills not dealing with budgets and taxes during a 30-day “budget session.”
Neville and Sens. Tim Keller and Cisco McSorley, both Democrats from Albuquerque, introduced similar bills this session, all of which have been combined onto a committee substitute, SB 18. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday gave a do-pass recommendation to SB 18, which goes next to the Senate floor.
So why antagonize the governor with a veto override when there’s another bill in play that has Richardson’s apparent blessing?
Neville said there’s no guarantee that the new bill will make it through the House. Plus, he said, it’s not certain that Richardson would sign the new bill.
Both Neville and Keller agree that the new bill is stronger than SB 460. Keller said overriding the veto of last year’s bill was the Senate’s “back-up plan” to help assure some reform of the SIC passed this year.
Earlier this year a team of Chicago consultants hired by the state to look at the state’s handling of investments, recommended that the SIC needs to decrease the influence of the Governor’s Office. “The first theme that we observed was that the governor’s influence over the SIC is significant,” Jeanna Cullins, a principal of the Ennis Krupp firm told the council. “The governor sits as the chair; the governor appoints, directly or indirectly, about 80 percent of the members to the SIC; the governor appoints the (state investment officer) as well as three other members of senior management (of the State Investment Office).”
Both the measure Richardson vetoed and the new bill give the governor fewer appointments to the SIC and give more appointments to the Legislature.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said he voted against the override because of the current legislation working its way through the Senate. Sanchez had voted in favor of Monday’s override of SB 531.
That bill passed both chambers unanimously last year after a state agency denied information about Medicaid to the Legislative Finance Committee, claiming confidentiality.
There is some Democratic support in the House for that override. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Tuesday he would vote to override SB 531 if it comes to a vote. Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe and LFC chairman, told The Associated Press the same thing Monday.
Federal investigators are looking at the role of third-party marketers in public investments. Santa Fe broker Marc Correra shared in nearly $22 million in fees for helping companies win investments with the SIC and a state educational pension fund, according to state records. Correra’s father, Anthony Correra, is a close friend of former state Investment Officer Gary Bland, who resigned in October, and also is close to Richardson. Bland was pressured out of the job by some SIC members after revelations in a securities fraud case in New York.