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New Mexico GOP seeks legal intervention on $1.75B budget row

July 9, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this June 11, 2021, file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol building in Santa Fe, N.M. Republican lawmakers in New Mexico sent a letter Thursday, July 8, 2021, asking the state Attorney General Hector Balderas to rule on a $1.75 billion spending dispute they have with Lujan Grisham. Lujan Grisham says her administration must distribute the money because of the way Congress passed the pandemic relief bill. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)
FILE - In this June 11, 2021, file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol building in Santa Fe, N.M. Republican lawmakers in New Mexico sent a letter Thursday, July 8, 2021, asking the state Attorney General Hector Balderas to rule on a $1.75 billion spending dispute they have with Lujan Grisham. Lujan Grisham says her administration must distribute the money because of the way Congress passed the pandemic relief bill. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in New Mexico are asking the state attorney general to weigh in on a spending dispute over $1.75 billion in federal pandemic relief aid.

GOP leadership in a letter sent Thursday asked New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, to issue a legal opinion declaring the funds must be allocated by the Legislature to protect the body’s fiscal authority.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says her administration must distribute the money because of the way Congress passed the pandemic relief bill.

The Legislature allocated money earlier this year, but Lujan Grisham used her veto power to effectively bring the money under discretionary control by her office.

Republican lawmakers took issue. They, along with one vocal Democratic senator, signed a petition that called for an extraordinary legislative session to be convened to override the governor’s veto and bring the funds back under the Legislature’s control. Democratic majorities in the House and Senate did not sign on.

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“Standing on principle isn’t always popular,” Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque Democrat, said on Twitter in response to a news article. “Was easy for my Dem colleagues to challenge (the) power of (former Republican Gov. Susana) Martinez. Such a fair weather commitment to the law.”

Democrats sued Martinez in 2017 over her use of veto power.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.