SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been a battle for months — who is in control of more than $1.75 billion of federal pandemic relief money coming to New Mexico. The governor and the legislature each believe they’re in control.
Earlier this spring, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed the legislature’s bill that would allocate the spending of $1 billion of that relief money, saying they couldn’t decide until the money is in our state. Now, it’s in the state’s hands, so we wanted to know what’s next.
“Now, not only is the money available to us, but we know what the rules are. You can’t spend and meet the requirements if you don’t know what those requirements are,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “We want lawmakers and we want local leaders to participate with us so we’re creating that group as we speak and have reached to legislative leadership to talk about how to get that done.”
The governor says their top priority is getting this money into the Unemployment Insurance Fund, as well as lost revenue for state agencies.
However, some state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that’s not the governor’s money to spend and according to state law, the legislature has the right to allocate that federal money that comes into the General Fund — something they did already this session before their bill was vetoed. While some are preparing to work alongside the governor to allocate this money, others are preparing for a potential legal battle.
“I think I had a conversation with the executive and we’re in agreement that we’re going to work together to place these funds and see where they go,” said Sen. George Munoz, a democrat serving district 4. “The question that needs to be answered, no matter who the governor is, past present future, is — when federal funds come in, who has the appropriating authority? We want that question answered once and for all. According to the statute of the state of New Mexico, is that when funds are placed in the general fund, that the legislature then has appropriation authority to do that.”
“The only thing we can do now is either go back and override the vetoes that the governor has given or come back in and do another appropriation bill because it’s legally, under the constitution and our state laws of New Mexico, that money cannot be spent without legislative approval,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, a Republican serving District 40. “If we won’t come in to do a veto override, they were going to have to take her to court to keep that money from being spent illegally.”
The governor’s office says they’re also looking at putting money into behavioral health, broadband, and recovering area hard-hit like the tourism industry. They say they’re still reviewing the guidelines from the Treasury Department and do not have a set date on when these funds will be distributed.
According to the U.S. Treasury, New Mexico is receiving $1.25 billion, based on the number of unemployed the state has, along with an additional $500 million that each state is getting.