New Mexico Supreme court mediates clash on pandemic aid

Political and Legal

New Mexico’s Supreme Court is considering whether state legislators should have a greater say in the spending more than $1 billion in federal pandemic aid.

Arguments in the case were scheduled for Wednesday morning at the five-seat high court. A bipartisan list of state senators is challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she asserts authority over federal pandemic aid approved by President Joe Biden in March.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions still are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief for New Mexico.

In a written court briefings, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor’s discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.

Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque initiated efforts to challenge the governor’s spending authority.

Supportive legal briefs have been filed by state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and four long-serving Democratic senators. Critics of the governor have said she has overstepped her constitutional authority, blocking the Legislature’s representation of diverse views on how to spend the pandemic relief money.

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