Four Democratic state senators who chair some of the most influential committees in the Legislature filed a legal brief Wednesday in support of a lawsuit against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that seeks to settle which branch of government has the authority to appropriate federal funds.

The state constitution is “unambiguous,” wrote the senators — George Muñoz of Gallup, Joe Cervantes of Las Cruces, and Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Daniel Ivey-Soto, both of Albuquerque — in the so-called amicus brief, filed in the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The constitution states “money shall be paid out of the treasury only upon appropriations made by the Legislature,” except interest or other payments on public debt.

“Our Constitution creates a separation of powers that vests the appropriation function primarily but not exclusively in the Legislature,” the document states. “Our Constitution also creates checks and balances among all three branches of government, so that no one branch can attain disproportionate power.”

The dispute over spending authority is long-running but resurfaced this year when Lujan Grisham used her executive powers in April to line-item veto more than $1 billion in one-time expenditures the state was expecting in federal pandemic aid. In her veto message, the governor said she considered the appropriations an impermissible attempt by the Legislature to appropriate or control the allocation of federal funds, which some lawmakers disputed.

Now, the issue is in front of the state Supreme Court.

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, who filed the lawsuit against the governor alongside Greg Baca, R-Belen, said the four senators’ filing comes a week before the court is scheduled to hear oral arguments. State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg also sided with Candelaria and Baca in a written response ordered by the court.

“I think we’re going in with the wind at our back,” Candelaria said.

Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, reiterated what the Governor’s Office has said on the matter in the past.

“Courts have previously made clear the Legislature may appropriate state, not federal, funds,” she wrote in an email. “We have no further comment on pending litigation, and the Lujan Grisham administration looks forward to continuing to provide ongoing support for economic rejuvenation throughout the state.”

In their amicus brief, the senators wrote counsel for the governor “misconstrued” a previous court case, “as can be seen by actually reading the case rather than grabbing a few lines from it.” The senators also claimed the governor’s counsel advanced a “confusing and erroneous argument” in a brief filed Oct. 15. Her attorneys argued a “suspense fund” where federal relief funds are being held “is somehow separate from the state treasury,” the senators wrote.

“The ‘suspense’ argument is disproved by the very statute that the governor quotes in the brief,” they wrote. “How could the governor’s counsel misread the plain text of this statute? The statute says that all public money shall be paid into the state treasury.”

Candelaria said he “applauded” his colleagues for taking a stand on the issue. He noted the four senators chair the Senate’s finance, judiciary, rules and public affairs committees.

“I think it demonstrates that folks who have taken a serious look at this issue or have come to the same conclusion that New Mexico law is very simply and straightforward on this point, that when it comes to making decisions about how public money is going to be spent and what priorities that’s going to go to, that power rests with the Legislature and not the executive,” he said.

Candelaria said the case “has taken on new importance in the last several days,” with Congress passing a $1 trillion infrastructure package in which New Mexico is poised to receive at least

$3.7 billion.

“This issue is going to keep arising, so I certainly look forward to receiving a decision from the Supreme Court,” he said, adding he expects an oral ruling from the bench next week, followed by a written opinion.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(10) comments

Richard Reinders

How many Wagyu steaks can you buy with 3.7 Billion

Jeff Varela

There are some traditional Dems. in the Legislature that still have the wisdom and backbone not to allow the Executive to run the show here in NM.

Richard Reinders

Washington is adopting the term the “Normal Democrats” to separate them from the left

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] The biggest mistake my party ever made was allowing Bernie and all these other "Democratic" Socialists to invade our party.

Jim Klukkert

Mike– 'your party' had no choice in the matter. [lol]

Richard Reinders


Mike Johnson

As I recall from Senate records, Bernie is not a member of the Democratic Party, he is officially a "Democratic" Socialist (Independent) who caucuses with the Democrats. Our party does not have to accept any of these kind of people, they obviously choose to because they think it benefits the party. We will see in the midterms if that is the case......And: "The fact that someone lists themselves as an official independent, not even as a Democrat, except to run for the office of president, and then lists himself as a socialist — that doesn't fly," Biden said on CNN in the run-up to the South Carolina primary, which Biden ended up winning decisively."

Chris Mechels

It isn't just the Executive, its Egolf and his crowd, who want their own way, and feed off the game. Egolf has fed very well. He took down John Arthur Smith and Pappen, and replaced them with those he could control. He also took down my Rep, Carl Trujillo, a good man, and replaced him with the mindless Andrea Romero.

Between MLG and Egolf, I've never seen such corruption in NM; its totally our of control.

And don't forget our "crotch grabbing" Governor, and her lies, with her friends lies, about that. It seems she's going to PAY Hallinan in "hush money" over this incident to avoid the distraction, and serve us. Yeah, right. It happened, and she's an idiot, and a liar. She's a shameless, stupid, little bully, who drives off competent people with the bullying. The Hallinan case simply shows this clearly, and her dishonesty. We owe him thanks. Vote for Mark. Anybody by Michelle!!!

Khal Spencer

That's what I want to see out of Democrats. Challenging our own side rather than falling in line like sheep. Let's see what the courts say.

Mike Johnson

Excellent to see more brave and courageous members of my party, risking political retribution, stepping up to challenge this egregious and totalitarian overreach by MLG. But, I am not optimistic, as the NM Supremes are politically in the tank for her on every issue, they cannot be impartial and objective here, this should really go to SCOTUS for a fair hearing. All the NM Supremes should recuse themselves.

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