The New Mexico Supreme Court denied a request by two state senators to stop Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham from further spending federal COVID-19 relief funds. But the high court also gave the governor and the state treasurer until Oct. 15 to respond to the original petition.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, filed a petition last month asking the state supreme court to issue an order to stop Lujan Grisham from further appropriating money that New Mexico received as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The two senators also asked the court to issue a stay in order to stop any further spending until the court case is settled.
State Republicans have largely been critical of Lujan Grisham’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Candelaria, although a member of the same political party as Lujan Grisham has often criticized the governor as well as Democratic Senate leadership.
Baca and Candelaria argued in their petition that appropriating federal money should be in the hands of the Legislature and not the governor’s office. Lujan Grisham’s office has used some of the money to incentivize New Mexico residents to get COVID-19 vaccines.
During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers tried to appropriate ARPA funds in the state budget, but Lujan Grisham line-item vetoed that portion and said in her veto message that the state supreme court has already ruled that federal money cannot be earmarked by the Legislature.
“The Supreme Court of New Mexico has concluded that federal contributions are not a proper subject of the Legislature’s appropriative power, and the Legislature’s attempt to control the use of such funds infringes ‘the executive function of administration,’” Lujan Grisham wrote in her veto message.
The case Lujan Grisham’s office cited was on from the 1970s involving federal funds for colleges and universities. In their petition, Baca and Candelaria argued that the case from the 1970s was narrowly focused on higher education and should not be used as precedent in this case.