Two state senators have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to bar her from spending federal pandemic aid without legislative approval.

“This case presents a constitutional emergency of generational importance,” Sens. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and Greg Baca R-Belen, say in a complaint filed Friday.

The lawsuit alleges the governor already has violated the state constitution by appropriating $600 million of the $1.73 billion in American Recovery Plan Act funds received by the state without legislative approval and says the court must act to prevent further unauthorized spending of the remaining $1.08 billion. The $600 million was used to replenish the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund.

“The New Mexico Supreme Court has made clear the state Legislature may appropriate state, not federal, funds,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Sackett said in an email Monday in response to the suit. “We have no further comment on the petition.”

The money at stake comes from a $1.9 trillion federal economic stimulus bill passed in March to help the U.S. recover from the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in what has been an ongoing struggle between lawmakers and the governor over which branch of state government has the authority to allocate federal funds.

The Legislature passed a bill during its regular session earlier this year calling for the money to be deposited in an “Appropriation Contingency Fund” and earmarking about $660.5 million for various purposes, including the stabilization of unemployment funds, the lawsuit says.

But Lujan Grisham vetoed that portion of the bill. She wrote in her veto message “the Legislature lacks the authority to direct the executive’s administration of federal funds.”

The senators say in their lawsuit the state constitution requires the executive branch to obtain legislative approval to spend any money held in the state’s treasury, with the exception of making payments on public debt.

Republican lawmakers led an unsuccessful push to convene an extraordinary session on the issue earlier this year.

After the effort failed, they sent a letter asking Attorney General Hector Balderas for a legal opinion regarding the authority to “expend” the relief funds.

“The request for our opinion is under active review, and with the filing of a petition with the Supreme Court on the same legal question, we will analyze the case to determine the appropriate next steps,” Balderas’ spokesman, Matt Baca, wrote in an email Monday.

Candelaria said in a news release Monday, “We have filed this petition to halt the Governor’s unconstitutional efforts to usurp the Legislature’s appropriations power by claiming that she, and she alone, has the power to decide how billions of dollars in federal grant funds are spent. In our country, no one is above the law and no one person should ever have the power to decide, unilaterally, how much people are taxed or how public money is spent.”

The lawsuit asks the state Supreme Court to issue a stay prohibiting the governor, State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and any other state officials from spending any of the federal recovery money while the petition is pending and to issue a writ prohibiting funds from being spent without legislative approval going forward.

(10) comments

John Cook

There are serious legal issues in the matter of distributing federal funds. Serious enough to get a hearing in the courts and too serious for knee-jerk right wing whining.

Chris Mechels

Perhaps a more tractable challenge has to do with "LEDA Recovery Grants", an ill conceived bill to give away some $200 million of NM tax dollars, with NO input from citizens to this point. Two illegal Emergency Rule hearings, which have no public involvement, and an illegal Public Hearing, on 2.92.1 NMAC, illegal on three points, leave the Economic Development Department (EDD) and NM Finance Authority (NMFA) giving away $200 million with no LEGAL basis, due to all the Rules Act violations. EDD and NMFA seem to feel "above the law", as does MLG, and intent on going forward illegally. Successful challenge seems likely, due to the massive Rules Act violations, and cutting out all "required" public input and participation.

I need a lawyer to carry this Rules Act lawsuit. Suggest to:

Mike Johnson

Sorry guys, just wasting your time tilting at her windmills. The fix is in in any court or any judge in NM, especially the Supremes. All are incapable of impartiality wrt MLG, and all are too afraid politically and too beholden to her to even consider a case where she or her minions are defendants. Get to a federal court, one in Texas or Utah would work, then you will get fair, impartial, nonpartisan justice.

John Cook

First, you understandably don't know about jurisdiction requirements. What you do know is that you can get away with lying about corruption in NM Courts. Or, alternatively, show me corruption in any appellate court in NM and I'll consider apologizing for calling you a liar.

Mike Johnson

So you would contend that corruption in NM courts does not exist? I could ask you to prove that negative, and as a scientist I know it is very difficult to prove a negative with any certainty. As a philosopher summed it up: "If, on the other hand, "you can't prove a negative" means you cannot prove beyond all possible doubt that something does not exist, well, that may, arguably, be true." I can prove that corruption has been found in NM courts, a recent prominent case shows this:

And Democrats as well. And as I pointed out before:"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". A lie, on the other hand is:" to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive ." Deceive: "to believe something that is not true, typically in order to gain some personal advantage." So you cannot prove it is an untrue statement nor can you prove my intent was to deceive, so you lose on all logic counts here.

John Cook

That's a fine link, Mr. Logic. A district court judge (not appellate) 8 years ago pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of making improper comments during a private lunch when he wasn't on the bench. Which in no way involved his role as a judge. Willful misrepresentation of the facts is lying.

Mike Johnson

John Cook

Sorry for calling you Mr. Logic. After your latest link to the whacko blogger who sounds just like you and spouts lies with no facts whatsoever, I'll amend that to: "That's a fine link there, Mr. Tinfoil hat."

Mike Johnson

[lol][lol][lol] Knew you would like it......

John Cook

Good to see you display a sense of humor. [thumbup]

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