SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A $1.7 billion wave of federal pandemic relief money has arrived at New Mexico’s state treasury amid a power struggle between a Democratic governor running for reelection and leading Democratic lawmakers who draft the state budget.
State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg confirmed the deposit of $1,751,542,835 from the federal government. The money is linked to the American Rescue Plan Act that comes with broad discretion on shoring up state finances and the local economy.
In early April, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed the Legislature’s suggestions on relief spending worth $1.1 billion that included tourism marketing, infrastructure projects and $600 million to replenish a depleted unemployment insurance account.
The governor has wagered an initial $5 million in relief money on a sweepstakes drawing of cash prizes for people who get vaccinated to stem the spread of COVID-19.
She also has voiced support for replenishing the unemployment insurance trust to stave off future tax increases on businesses. The governor has not yet disclosed publicly other priorities for the new relief funds.
Democratic Senate finance committee Chairman George Muñoz of Gallup said Wednesday that time is of the essence as the state attempts to avoid missteps that led to a painstakingly slow recovery from the Great Recession.
“New Mexico always lags behind other states in recovery,” he said. “If we can end that cycle and speed that process and get it out the door … then we become efficient.”
He said legislators are attuned to the challenges of spending one-time federal relief without expanding programs that can’t be supported financially later.
Eichenberg said that the state treasurer’s office has asked the Lujan Grisham administration for a rough timetable on relief spending. A $65 million portion of the federal deposit will be forwarded to municipal and county governments.
Muñoz said legislators could resort to litigation to assert their authority over federal relief and state spending decisions.