It took the House about 20 minutes to concur with some Senate changes to a bill appropriating $478 million in federal funds, and the bill now moves to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.
The funds in House Bill 2 constitute about one-third of $1.1 billion of available American Rescue Plan Act funds, as well as another $130 million in federal money. Among other measures, the funding will be used to expand broadband services, upgrade roads and bridges, provide housing assistance for the homeless and shore up a teacher loan forgiveness fund.
Lawmakers plan to deal with the remaining funds during the regular 30-day session that begins next month.
While the spending bill itself did not generate much conflict or controversy during this month’s special session, which is primarily focused on redistricting efforts, the issue of appropriating federal pandemic aid funds set off a legal and political battle between lawmakers and Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.
The governor argued she has the right to spend federal funds, but two senators — Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and Greg Baca, R-Belen — filed a lawsuit challenging the move and were victorious in the state Supreme Court, which ordered a freeze on federal pandemic aid spending until the Legislature makes appropriations.
Throughout the session, lawmakers — mostly Republicans — thanked Candelaria and Baca, noting the lawsuit confirmed the Legislature as the appropriating body.
“We’re here right now because those two stood up to the governor and said, ‘No, appropriation is our job, not your job,’ ” Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said during a Senate floor session on the bill Tuesday.
Earlier in the session, the Senate Finance Committee made one financial change to House Bill 2, stripping it of $26 million for broadband expansion. Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, told the House members Thursday that move will not hold up broadband expansion plans and said the Legislature can allocate that $26 million during the 2022 session.
During the House concurrence debate on the bill Thursday, Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, wondered aloud if that $26 million could be reappropriated toward supplementing emergency feeding programs at food banks across the state. Right now, HB 2 commits $5 million to those programs.
“That would have been great to move that to the food banks because I know we have a lot of need with food issues … and people who are not getting enough food at this time,” Lord said.
The governor has three days to act on bills sent to her during a special session, her spokeswoman, Nora Meyers Sackett, wrote in an email Thursday.