Committee discusses how to spend some of the $1.1 billion in federal aid

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee held a three-hour hearing on allocating some of the $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief aid but will wait until Wednesday to vote on the bill. HB 2, a general appropriations bill, will enable the legislature to begin spending some of the federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The 2021 Legislature already allocated the federal relief funds, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham line item vetoed that portion of the spending bill last spring. A group of state senators from both parties sued Lujan Grisham arguing that she did not have the authority to spend the money without the Legislature’s input and won their case in state Supreme Court this past fall. Related: NM high court: Legislature, not governor, has authority over federal COVID-19 funds

Once it passes and is signed by the governor, the federal money will transfer to a contingency fund within the general fund.

Contentious House debate over bill to fund special session

After a contentious, two-hour debate over what should go into the bill to fund 2021’s second special legislative session, the House voted 65 to 1 to approve the $1.6 million package. The new House Majority Floor leader, Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez, of Albuquerque, introduced HB 1, known as the feed bill, which ensures that the 2021 second special session legislative session can pay for itself. The legislative session, as called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, is focused on redrawing political maps and how to appropriate the rest of the $1.1 billion the state has received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act under Pres. Joe Biden. The bill originally included additional monies to go to the executive and judicial branches, to enable the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to prepare to spend the ARPA funds and money for the courts to pay for pretrial services. Martinez referred repeatedly to the crime problem in Albuquerque and that the DFA needed to get ready for the federal expenditures as reasons to pass a bill that was designed to allow the legislature to include the additional expenditures.

State treasurer says COVID-19 relief money should be governed by Legislature

The New Mexico state treasurer agrees that federal COVID-19 relief funds should be handled by the state Legislature and not the governor, according to a response filed on Tuesday by his attorney. 

Treasurer Tim Eichenberg was named as a party of interest in a case filed last month by state Sens. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat, and Greg Baca, a Republican. Candelaria and Baca asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to order Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to stop appropriating any more money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and to leave the rest of the spending decisions to the state Legislature. 

In a response on behalf of Eichenberg, his attorney wrote that while the ARPA funds can be spent legally on a variety of different issues, the Legislature should decide where it would be best spent. 

“The Treasurer respectfully submits that the question of whether some or all funds should be used for any or all of these areas requires considerations of public policy and public priorities that must be conducted in the open with opportunity for public participation, which can and will only happen in a legislative process,” the response reads. 

During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers tried to include spending of the federal money in the state budget. Lujan Grisham line-item vetoed that appropriation on the grounds that a previous state supreme court case ruled that the spending of certain federal funds is the responsibility of the governor, not the legislature.  

In their initial petition to the state supreme court, Candelaria and Baca argued that the case Lujan Grisham cited in her veto message was narrowly focused on federal funds specifically designated for higher education. In this case, the two senators argued, the federal funds had a wide range of acceptable uses. 

Eichenberg’s lawyer also argued that Congress approved the relief money to be used in a wide variety of ways, “according to needs assessments made by state decision-makers, driven by state considerations, and priorities.”

And those decision-makers, Echineberg’s lawyer argued, are legislators. 

“Legislative action—the power to make law and appropriate money from the State Treasury—rests exclusively with the Legislature,” the response reads.

NM expands early childcare subsidies

For the next two years, New Mexico will raise the income eligibility for childcare assistance from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 350 percent of the federal poverty level with a phase out at 400 percent of the federal poverty level, officials announced Thursday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Early Childcare Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and state Sen. Michael Padilla spoke during a press conference Thursday to announce the change. The press conference was also part of a one-year anniversary celebration for ECECD, which is an agency that began under the Lujan Grisham administration to improve early childcare education. The press conference was held in Santa Fe and online. The department will use emergency funds available through the federal American Rescue Plan to increase the assistance starting August 1.

State and federal child tax credits improve equity for children of color in the state

Tax credits that recently passed the New Mexico Legislature and the U.S. Congress will improve child poverty and equity issues, according to child welfare advocates. The New Mexico Legislature passed HB 291, a bill that will raise revenue by about $5 million annually, said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. The bill, whose lead sponsor was Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, improves the state’s Working Family Tax Credit and the Low Income Comprehensive Tax Rebate, he said. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office still has to sign the bill. Her office is reviewing the measures the Legislature passed, spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett told NM Political Report.