SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s state treasurer says the governor of New Mexico is overstepping her authority in deciding independently how to spend more than $1 billion in federal relief without legislative approval or accountability, in court filings obtained Wednesday.
In a Supreme Court briefing, Democratic State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg has sided with a pair of legislators who say that the Legislature’s core authority over state spending decisions is being overridden by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque have asked the Supreme Court to intervene to rein in the governor’s authority to spend without legislative approval. The governor’s office is preparing its response.
Eichenberg, thrust into the controversy as guardian of state treasury accounts, said that the federal relief legislation signed by President Joe Biden in March assigns broad discretion to states on how to allocate spending, discretion that shouldn’t be left to the governor alone.
“To hold otherwise will eliminate constitutionally sourced legislative authority … and allow disbursement of public funds without necessary oversight and public accountability,” the treasurer’s briefing says.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust and underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, asserting that relief spending is the responsibility of the executive branch, not the Legislature. Decisions are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief.
Baca and Candelaria have asked the high court to block the governor’s spending authority. Eichenberg says he will defer to the court.
“The federal government cannot, by allocation of funds, endow the governor — even a well-intentioned governor acting in the aftermath of a public health emergency — with powers greater than those granted by the state Constitution,” the state treasurer’s office said.
A former state senator, Eichenberg was reelected to second term as treasurer in 2018.