KUNM Local
8:22 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

Martinez vetoes bills for state tax credits, health insurance exchange, & define autism in school

Santa Fe, NM –
Perhaps one of the more closely followed bills in the legislative session was one that would have set up a detailed analysis of the state's 109 tax credits it gives out to a variety of businesses and industries. Some estimates are that New Mexico gives out as much as a billion dollars in credits and rebates each year. The measure was designed to ensure the analysis of who gets those credits and why would be independent and bi-partisan. Martinez, in vetoing the measure, said her administration would take care of it.

"The responsibility of the executive is to make sure that those tax expenditures are we're getting the best bang for our buck," Martinez said. "And I think we're gonna do that. We're gonna do that without having to be given that demand or that request from the legislature. It is up to us to make sure that that is, and we're gonna provide and work with the legislature and we're gonna give em that information. And we're gonna give it to the public, too."

Martinez says she'll issue an executive order for the state Tax and Revenue Department to do the analysis. One of the sponsors of the tax credit analysis bill is Albuquerque Democratic Senator Tim Keller. He notes that his measure passed both House and Senate unanimously. And he says he's skeptical a mandate from the governor's office would lead to a fully unbiased report. Because, he says, of the nature of the tax credits themselves.

"You know, a lot of them are politically motivated," Keller adds. "And I can see a situation where it's easy to cut corners and not fully analyze the expenditures that you like or vice-versa."

The governor says she'll look for a comprehensive report.
"We're going to analyze every bit of it," Martinez stresses, "because I think it's important for taxpayers to know where their money is going and where it's not going, and is it wisely done."

But Keller says Martinez's action is disappointing, adding, "this is just continuing the status quo, and it's no different than what we've been dealing with before. And I think New Mexicans had higher hopes for our new governor."

Martinez also vetoed a bill that would have set up a health insurance exchange in the state. The federal government requires each state to set one up in order to receive funding for it. Martinez said she had reservations that money would be spent on creating an exchange when the federal government requirements for it aren't yet in place.

"And number two," she said, "there's still a dialogue between the governors throughout the country and the president and congress; how do we possibly get a grant, a lump of funding from the federal government so that we can create an insurance exchange here in our state that best serves our population, instead of being mandated federally, which will be so expensive."

The bill's sponsor, Albuquerque Democratic Senator Dede Feldman, had this response:
"What you're hearing is Republican governor's opposition to healthcare reform. And trying to delay until something happens that they would like."

Feldman says she's been communicating with U-S Senator Jeff Bingman on the healthcare exchange funding issue.
"Bingaman has sent a letter to all of the legislators about how this exchange would be funded by the federal government through 2015," she says. "It would not require state funds. There had to be a governance structure in place, and then planning money and also money for the IT system would be forthcoming."

She adds that, in the end, the delay on the state's part could mean the federal government would step in and set up a healthcare exchange.

"Maybe a federal exchange might provide cheaper policies," Feldman says. "Because the federal government will be able to pool policies from all different states and get economies of scale. It seems to me that's exactly the fear that the Republicans have about healthcare reform, that somehow it will lead to, you know, a government single system. With this veto we're much closer to that than we were without it."

But Martinez stresses that more time is needed to analyze what the federal government wants from each state.

"There is certainly a desire that we will have more flexibility, number one," she says. "And why spend money on an exchange when we don't know how the federal government is going to require us to set that up at the end of the day."

Another bill the governor rejected would have established a definition for autism spectrum disorder for the Public Education Department. An Autism Task Force has been working on this issue, trying to increase competence within schools for working with kids with autism. The bill would used the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or D-S-M, definition for autism, which advocates said would lead to better services for autistic kids in the schools. Martinez had a problem with the definition change.

"We have had communication with I.D.E.A. in reference to the new language and the definition for autism," she said. I.D.E.A. is actually the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She continued: "Currently, the definition is in compliance with the feds. And it's important to remain in compliance because it puts at risk 90 million dollars. And to change that definition and not be in compliance is very risky for us."

The current definition the state uses is too simple, some say. In fact, one autism advocate told this reporter it's not uncommon for one person within a school to make an autism diagnosis, or not, based on it. Using the D-S-M definition, advocates say, would make those diagnoses much more accurate and appropriate. Martinez's veto of the measure took bill sponsor, Clovis Republican Senator Clint Harden, by surprise.
"This bill went through the legislative process without a single dissenting vote," he said.

Harden says the bill would have helped reverse a trend the state's been in of worsening services for kids with autism in the schools.

"I have been trying to get in touch with her chief of staff concerning this bill," Harden told KUNM. "I left a message for him three days ago. We had people from the community, autism community, calling. No response. I sent her two separate letters. I'm disappointed. And one out of every hundred kids' parents, which is the new numbers, 1 out of every 110 young people being diagnosed with autism, I guarantee you they're disappointed."

For her part, Governor Martinez says she will work with the Public Education Department to get some other elements of the bill implemented, including 11 best practices it recommends for helping autistic children in the schools.

"We're going to sit down with I.D.E.A.", she says, "and say if this is where we're wanting to be, can we sit down and adjust the language so that we remain in compliance but get the benefits of the rest of what's within that autism bill."

It's still not clear what she means by "sit down with I.D.E.A.", which is itself legislation, but the governor promises to take a close look at the issue in coming months. And the autism advocacy community is calling that a victory. Harden says he hopes the governor will consider putting the matter on the call of a special session later this year.

There were plenty of bills that did get signed, including one that will toughen the review process around insurance rate increases. Martinez also signed a measure that will prohibit state and local government employees from securing contracts and then going to work for those contractors. She also approved a bill ending corporal punishment in New Mexico public schools, and another measure expanding Katie's Law: now, all convicted felons in the state will have their DNA samples taken to be included in a database.