FARMINGTON — A state representative for San Juan County has said he would consider entering a lawsuit with other counties to challenge one of Gov. Susana Martinez's line-item vetoes in Senate Bill 268.
"This line-item veto has been abused for a while," said Rep. Paul Bandy, R-San Juan County.
Other legislators during the Legislative Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday in Farmington also railed against the veto.
Senate Bill 268 passed in the recent legislative session. It rolls out the Safety Net Care Pool, which requires counties to pay one-twelfth of 1 percent of their gross receipts taxes to the fund. San Juan County's payment is about $3 million.
The pool's funds are designed to cover hospitals' unpaid health care claims, but how much money San Juan Regional Medical Center will get for uncompensated care is uncertain. Brent Earnest, New Mexico Human Services Department deputy secretary, has said initial estimates predict the Farmington hospital will get $7 million in inpatient Medicaid reimbursements.
In a written statement, Martinez's spokesman Mike Lonergan said, "This is a critical program that helps counties pay for indigent care and those who lack health insurance. The program will exist for more than five years, so the funding should be there as well. The Legislature can take up any item they like in the next legislative session, so any lawsuit on this matter would be premature."
Bandy said the safety net pool, as was written in the bill, was pitched to legislators as a "stop-gap measure" so lawmakers could buy time to find a permanent solution to helping hospitals pay uncompensated health care claims. The program's predecessor, the Sole Community Provider Program, had to be canceled, state officials say.
Bandy said Martinez's line-item veto struck out a sunset clause, and now counties must pay permanently.
The Daily Times reported earlier this month that at least eight counties are considering suing Martinez for the same reason as Bandy. Bandy said the New Mexico Supreme Court needs to define the Martinez's line-item veto authority.
That is one solution, he said. The other would be to find a fix in the next legislative session.
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-San Juan County, said he wants to first see if legislators can fix the problem when they meet again in January.
"I'm not ruling it out," he said of his involvement in the lawsuit. "It's just a touch premature right now."
Sen. Steve Neville, R-San Juan County, said he's also not ready to commit yet to the lawsuit.
"I think it's probably better to go through the legislative process," he said.
The bill has other problems, too, the three legislators say. The formula that determines where the safety net pool's money is distributed was changed after legislators voted on it in the Senate, they said. The initial formula indicated San Juan Regional would get money from the safety net pool, they said.
Sharer said that action was lawful, but, he thought, counties, hospitals, the New Mexico Hospital Association, the New Mexico Association of Counties and the New Mexico Department of Health and Human Services had an agreement.
"What we had, at least in my mind, was a gentleman's agreement," he said.