Legislators sue to rein in governor on pandemic relief

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Legislators asked the New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday to limit Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s authority over more than $1 billion in federal relief.

The lawsuit from the Republican Party’s top-ranked Senator and a Democratic colleague accuses Lujan Grisham of overstepping her constitutional authority.

“No one is above the law and no one person should ever have the power to decide, unilaterally, how much people are taxed or how public money is spent,” Democratic State Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque said in a statement.

The lawsuit, also was brought by Senate Republican minority floor leader Gregory Baca of Belen, says that the governor has taken over the Legislature’s authority by appropriating more than $600 million in federal funds provided under relief legislation signed by President Biden in March.

It says another $1 billion is at stake and that the governor has pressured most lawmakers into ceding to her authority.

“The court must now act to rebalance the scales of power and protect the Legislature’s important yet fragile power over the purse strings of state government,” the lawsuit states.

Lujan Grisham has tapped the disputed relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust and underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated.

Lujan Grisham said through a spokeswoman that appropriation of the federal relief funds is the responsibility of the executive branch, not the Legislature.