The New Mexico Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in a longstanding dispute with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over which branch of government has the authority to provide federal funds.
The Supreme Court unanimously sided with lawmakers who spoke out against Lujan Grisham, who is making decisions about how to spend more than $ 1 billion on federal pandemic aid without input from lawmakers.
“The constitution won today,” wrote Senator Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, in a text message following the verdict.
“Big decisions about state policy, and particularly about how billions in public money are to be spent, must be made in the legislative process in the light of the day. Such decisions must never be made by a governor acting alone behind closed doors.” he added.
Candelaria joined Republican Senator Greg Baca of Belen on filing an executive and legislative complaint.
Candelaria told judges that amid the coronavirus pandemic and economic turmoil, the stake was too high for just one person – the governor – to determine how New Mexico spends about $ 1.6 billion on federal aid. He urged the court to err on the accountability side by ensuring legal oversight.
“These funds can either be used in a transparent, public and legislative approval process … inconvenience, public debate, committee hearings or negotiating majorities in the House and Senate,” Candelaria said.
Speaking to a press conference at the Roundhouse, Lujan Grisham told reporters she would seek advice on the Supreme Court’s decision and that she and lawmakers must now work together to determine how best to use the funds as soon as possible.
“We have to get this money out,” said the governor.
“I try to use every dollar,” she said. “We should do that here. We should use everything to get the best for our money. “
She said she will discuss with lawmakers how to spend the federal money so it can be made available to those overseeing infrastructure improvements.
“I’m not sure what that looks like,” she said. “We have to find out together.”
According to KRQE-TV, the judges listened to the arguments for two hours before issuing a brief bank decision.
“The court grants the petitioner a lawsuit because of the great publicity,” said Chief Justice Michael Vigil. “The court will issue a prohibition and mandate order prohibiting the governor and treasurer and any other state officials from transferring, encumbering, committing, spending or using additional funds from the state ARPA, subject to their consent [American Relief Plan Act] Account in the state treasury, no appropriation. “
The governor retains his veto power over spending legislation.
The judges plan to deliver a written opinion later.
In a statement released after the ruling, Baca praised the Supreme Court’s decision.
“In one of the most significant rulings in decades, the New Mexico Supreme Court today preserved the appropriating authority of the legislature and affirmed the separation of powers and the balance of powers enshrined in our constitution,” Baca said in the statement. “As legislators, we are the representative body of government and we are accountable to our voters for the spending of their tax dollars. The governor’s attempts to take unilateral control of our state by defying the authority of her office and the state constitution are a monstrous seizure of power, and we are grateful that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the people. “
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for re-election in 2022, has used the funds to replenish state unemployment insurance, draw millions in sweepstakes for people to be vaccinated, support agricultural wages in the face of the shortage of chili pickers, and To create incentives so that the unemployed can go back to work. Decisions on more than $ 1 billion in federal aid to New Mexico are pending.
In written court briefings, Lujan Grisham said a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago confirmed the governor’s discretion over federal funding to universities and should apply to federal pandemic relief funds in general.
State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg took the side of Candelaria and Baca in a written response ordered by the court last month, in which he alleged through a lawyer that the spending of the COVID-19 aid funds must be approved by the legislature. In a legislative letter filed earlier this month, four longtime Democratic senators who chair some of the legislature’s most influential committees also joined efforts to curtail the governor’s spending powers.
The Supreme Court case “was a litmus test of whether this state will continue to kowtow and allow a politician to make decisions without the voice of the people,” said Jim Townsend, Republican minority leader in the Artesia House of Representatives, in a statement .
“It’s interesting that even the governor-appointed judicial officers voted for the voice of the people, not to mention the five senators who opposed the inaction of their party leadership to fight for the people,” Townsend said. “I am saddened that our colleagues in the House of Representatives are failing to stand up for the voice of the people, but we hope this will alert you and the governor that we will not be silenced when it comes to the people of To represent New Mexico. “
The Associated Press contributed to this report.