SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Leading legislators moved forward Wednesday with an examination of at least $30 million in emergency spending authorized by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham without legislative approval in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
A panel of lawmakers authorized contract attorneys to continue efforts to confirm details about the sources and destinations of the emergency spending, as lawmakers openly clashed about whether the governor had overstepped her authority and acted appropriately.
A motion from a Republican lawmaker for a September 1 accounting deadline was voted down, as Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf accused Republicans of courting controversy and trying to score partisan political points in the run-up to the November election.
Republican lawmakers say Lujan Grisham infringed on the Legislature’s authority over state spending by signing emergency spending orders far in excess of a $750,000 statutory limit, and suggested that a lawsuit may be needed to compel the release of more details.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has described the $750,000 threshold as a default number that has been exceeded by current and past governors when disasters warrant. She describing the Legislature’s concerns as a “pedantic matter’ during a major health crisis.
“I think the letter back from the governor was snarly at best,” said House minority leader James Townsend of Artesia. “I don’t appreciate it.”
Democrats including Senate majority leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe say they support bipartisan efforts to revise outdated statutes on emergency spending.
Egolf came to the governor’s defense, arguing that her administration was compelled to take action and compete with other states for equipment supplies in response to the pandemic “in the absence of any federal leadership.”
“We’re going to hear from lawyers after they have done their work,” he said. “Executive orders have been signed, the money has been spent, at least in part.”
In other action, the council initiated the process of redrawing political districts based on population changes in the pending 2020 Census, seeking out bids and proposals for expert consulting services.