It was concerning last week when the governor and a bipartisan group of lawmakers got into it over who has authority over spending. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s vetoes stripped $1.1 billion in federal stimulus funding from the state budget. Lawmakers say they have authority appropriating undesignated general funding. The governor contends she does. The courts should clear that issue up.
But the drama goes from bad to worse as the governor didn’t simply veto legislators’ appropriations; she also apparently crossed out a word here and there that directed how public money would be spent. And that, according to the New Mexico Supreme Court, is a big no-no.
In one veto, Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, removed a requirement certain money be used for correctional officer pay raises, allowing her to spend the money more broadly. She also took out language that sought to make $1 million in funding contingent on submission of a cybersecurity plan. N.M. governors are allowed to make line-item vetoes of spending bills but cannot change the meaning of an appropriation. Lujan Grisham, a lawyer who should know better, crossed the same line her predecessor got in trouble for.
In June 2011, the state Supreme Court struck down an attempt by then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, to change a dollar amount in the state’s budget bill. As reported in the Journal, “top-ranking Democratic lawmakers contended Martinez overstepped her constitutional authority with the line-item veto in April, which reduced funding for oversight of regional housing authorities from $150,000 to $50,000.” A unanimous court agreed.
Regarding the current debate, if the Legislature as a whole fails to act, individual lawmakers could and should file a lawsuit seeking clarity, especially now that it’s been reported Lujan Grisham actually altered language. With over a billion dollars and constitutional powers at stake, it’s a fight worth having.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.