A dispute between Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature over federal spending powers heated up Monday as House Republicans announced they are calling for an extraordinary session to debate how the state should divvy $1.75 billion in COVID-19 relief funds.
House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, told lawmakers on the Legislative Council he planned to ask the Legislative Council Service to draft a petition seeking support for the extraordinary session, in which the Legislature would convene itself.
“[Lujan Grisham] is completely bypassing the appropriate body, which is us in the Legislature,” Montoya said.
The petition would need three-fifths of support from each chamber, or 42 members of the House of Representatives and 25 senators. It comes just days after State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg confirmed New Mexico had received the full $1.75 billion in aid from the federal government.
In March, Lujan Grisham vetoed the Legislature’s plan to allocate $1.2 billion in expected federal aid, saying the legislative branch had overstepped its authority by allocating federal dollars. That authority falls to the executive, the governor said.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, reiterated that in an email Monday.
She cited a state Supreme Court ruling in the 1974 case Sego v. Kirkpatrick, in which, she said, justices found the Legislature did not have the power to appropriate certain federal funds.
Lawmakers in both major political parties have given different interpretations of the ruling and have pointed to state laws directing revenue to the general fund and a constitutional provision requiring a legislative appropriation for money paid out of the state treasury.
While some Democrats in the Legislature have criticized Lujan Grisham’s veto of the federal spending and have pushed back against her assertion she has sole authority over allocating the funds, the most vocal opposition has come from Republicans.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, in recent months has characterized their accusations against Lujan Grisham as a political ploy in the GOP effort to take back the Governor’s Office.
Egolf said in a statement Monday there was no need to fight about the issue.
“Both sides of the Legislature can have robust conversations with the Governor on how to spend these dollars,” he said in the statement. “It’s entirely a waste of everyone’s time to be focused yet again on another Republican stunt, but sadly, that’s what Americans have come to expect from their party.”
Montoya tried to make a motion regarding the petition during the Legislative Council meeting Monday, but Egolf said the move was unnecessary.
Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said the council should refrain from introducing any action.
Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, called Montoya’s request for the petition “a straw poll.”
“That is not appropriate for what the Legislative Council is supposed to be doing,” he said.
House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, defended Montoya’s effort. He said he believed the action was appropriate because it addressed constitutionality and the three branches of government.
It’s the second time in the past 12 months GOP lawmakers have called for an extraordinary session. In August, Republicans called for a session to limit Lujan Grisham’s emergency powers to address the pandemic.
However, extraordinary sessions are rare. The state’s only one came in 2002 to address a budget standoff with then-Republican Gov. Gary Johnson.
House Republicans issued a news release Monday afternoon accusing Lujan Grisham of holding a “series of closed door meetings” with legislative Democrats, as well as “secretive memos” outlining a plan to spend federal relief funds.
Sackett denied there were any secret messages or closed-door meetings. She wrote in an email the governor has spoken to all legislative leadership, including Republicans, about her priorities for federal spending.
“Information on the administration’s plans for the federal funds will be coming soon and we look forward to allocating the funds to effective and impactful use benefitting New Mexicans across the state,” Sackett wrote.