Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, directed legislative staffers Monday to circulate a document that would allow New Mexico lawmakers to call themselves into session amid a dispute over which branch of government has authority to allocate federal stimulus money.
The unusual procedure – successfully employed just once in state history – would need support from three-fifths of the members of each legislative chamber.
Democrats hold substantial majorities in the House and Senate, and they have given no indication they would support an “extraordinary session,” as the Constitution calls it.
Nonetheless, Montoya on Monday asked the Legislative Council Service to draft a document seeking an extraordinary session and distribute it to every legislator.
He initially asked members of the Legislative Council – a bipartisan panel of high-ranking legislative leaders – to endorse the effort. But no vote was taken after House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said the council is supposed to maintain neutrality on legislation.
Montoya’s push for an emergency legislative session comes as lawmakers of both parties express dismay at Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s veto of budget language outlining how to spend some of the federal stimulus funds flowing into New Mexico.
Legislators say they are empowered to appropriate the money, just as they do state funds. In a budget bill earlier this year, they sought to allocate about $1.1 billion in federal money to help an unemployment insurance fund, a college scholarship program and highway repairs – language the governor vetoed.
Representatives of the Lujan Grisham administration say the power to allocate federal funding lies with the executive branch, and they cite court cases backing up their position.
In an interview, Montoya acknowledged that it will be difficult to win enough Democratic support to convene a session. But he said it’s time for lawmakers to assert their authority over state spending decisions.
“The governor has been unilaterally allocating those dollars without any input whatsoever,” Montoya said.
Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the governor has talked to legislative leaders – including Republicans – about plans for spending the federal money and will release more information soon.
The funding, she said, will be put “to effective and impactful use benefitting New Mexicans across the state.”
Egolf said the push for an extraordinary session is a waste of time.
“We don’t need to fight on this,” he said in a written statement. “Both sides of the Legislature can have robust conversations with the Governor on how to spend these dollars.”