Senator, Governor's Office escalate spending dispute - Albuquerque Journal

Senator, Governor’s Office escalate spending dispute

Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque speaks during the opening day of an ongoing special session on redistricting about his decision to change his party affiliation from Democrat to independent, as other senators look on. Candelaria recently accused Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office of violating a Supreme Court order regarding the spending of federal relief funds. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A dispute over spending authority for federal stimulus funds has taken a new twist, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office accusing Sen. Jacob Candelaria of grandstanding in a state Supreme Court filing.

The latest salvo comes after Candelaria, a Democrat turned independent, said last week the governor was continuing to spend stimulus funding in violation of a court order that such dollars could only be allocated with legislative approval.

He also asked the Supreme Court to impose sanctions on the Governor’s Office and levy additional spending restrictions.

In its response this week, the Governor’s Office said a $269,059 payment of an invoice from a computer vendor was due to a misunderstanding of the Supreme Court’s order, since the expense had been obligated before the court’s decision.

The governor’s chief legal counsel, Holly Agajanian, also said the funds in question were restored after top state Department of Finance and Administration officials were alerted to the payment by state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg’s office.

Given that backdrop, Agajanian said there was no need for Candelaria to file a motion with the Supreme Court.

“Sadly, it appears Senator Candelaria is less interested in the truth than having his name in the papers,” the governor’s attorney wrote in the nine-page response.

Candelaria teamed up with Senate GOP floor leader Greg Baca of Belen in September to file the initial petition challenging the governor’s unilateral authority to spend $1.7 billion in federal relief funds.

He said Wednesday he does not believe the Lujan Grisham administration’s spending of additional federal money after the Supreme Court’s decision was a mistake, but was a deliberate act flagged by the state treasurer.

“The court was very clear that not a single penny could be transferred out of that fund without legislative approval,” Candelaria told the Journal.

In regards to the grandstanding allegations, Candelaria called the criticisms levied by the Governor’s Office “tacky and low-rent behavior.”

“It is not surprising to me the governor wants to make this some sort of political attack,” said Candelaria, who announced on the opening day of an ongoing special legislative session on redistricting that he was changing his political affiliation due to what he described as a toxic two-party political system.

The Legislature is weighing a plan to spend roughly $462 million of the unspent stimulus funds during the special session that started Monday. The remaining amount could then be allocated during a 30-day regular session that starts next month.

While the Supreme Court issued a ruling barring the governor from spending additional funds immediately after hearing oral arguments Nov. 17, it has not yet released a written opinion in the case.

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