SANTA FE – State legislators bristled on Friday at vetoes by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that block legislative authority over new federal pandemic aid, and said they may seek a court ruling to defend Legislature’s authority over that spending.
Pandemic relief legislation signed this year by President Joe Biden assigns $1.6 billion in aid directly to New Mexico state government. Legislators in March assigned $1.1 billion to backfill the state’s unemployment insurance trust, underwrite road projects, provide several years of tuition-free college to in-state students and shore up finances at state museums.
Lujan Grisham vetoed those provisions and several leading legislators say the governor went to far in asserting her authority over the money. Lawmakers also say several line-item vetoes to a budget bill went beyond simple spending deletions to alter or expand state spending.
Democratic state Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup urged colleagues to seek an opinion from the state Supreme Court, during a meeting Friday of a year-round legislative committee on budgeting and accountability.
“I just think that the legislature has to determine under their purview if they’re going to be the funding body or are we going to let the governor dictate,” he said. “This is not a personal battle.”
The committee took no immediate action.
Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Sackett Meyers said Friday that the appropriation of federal money falls to the executive branch of state government – though the governor welcomes collaboration with the Legislature.
“In fact, we’re hopeful the eventual allocation of the federal funds will include some aspects that are analogous to what the Legislature had in mind,” she said in an email.
Legislative staff members have cited several questionable vetoes beyond the federal aid. One would remove all restrictions on an appropriation to the Corrections Department that was supposed to increase pay rates for guards at private prisons.
Lujan Grisham has voiced support in general for shoring up the state’s unemployment trust fund to avoid future payroll increases on businesses. She says her administration is waiting on guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department on how money from the American Rescue Plan Act can be spent.