By Albuquerque Journal
Syndicated content 

Governor OKs budget, exercises veto power


Last updated 4/10/2021 at 2:29pm

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday signed off on a $7.4 billion budget plan that will boost state spending and provide 1.5% pay increases to state employees and teachers.

However, the Democratic governor used her line-item veto authority to strike down legislative earmarks for more than $1 billion from a federal stimulus plan for various state programs — including a largely depleted state unemployment fund, a popular college scholarship program and highway repairs.

The governor also vetoed 17 bills passed by lawmakers, including one that sought to reshape the training of law enforcement officers.

Supporters of a proposal to revise law enforcement training in New Mexico objected strongly to one of the vetoes. The measure, Senate Bill 375, would have required annual training in de-escalation techniques, crisis intervention and responding to people in a mental health crisis, among other changes.

Lawmakers had passed it without a dissenting vote.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the proposal was a response — at least in part — to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee onto his neck.

“We thought we were doing something there to make sure our police had extra training,” Ingle, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Friday.

In her veto message, Lujan Grisham didn’t object to the extra training. Instead, she said couldn’t support the bill because it would have changed the composition of the Law Enforcement Academy Board, weakening civilian oversight.

As for the veto in the budget, Lujan Grisham said in an executive message to top-ranking lawmakers that a state court ruling has upheld the Legislature’s power of the purse strings does not apply to federal dollars. And she described legislators’ attempt to appropriate the funds an infringement into executive authority.

“This budget is responsible and responsive to the needs of New Mexicans right now and in the future,” Lujan Grisham said.

While the line-item vetoes do not mean New Mexico’s state government will lose its $1.6 billion under the latest federal pandemic relief package, they could set off another tug-of-war between the Governor’s Office and legislators.

Lujan Grisham’s use of an emergency declaration to access federal funds last year prompted some lawmakers to question the legality of the action, and Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, on Friday described the governor’s latest line-item vetoes as irresponsible and possibly unconstitutional.

“We are the ones directly responsible to the citizens for how taxpayer dollars are spent and I am disappointed in what appears to be yet another power grab by this governor,” Sharer said.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said it’s likely lawmakers will once again appropriate the federal dollars during next year’s 30-day legislative session.

And Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, disputed the governor’s contention the Supreme Court has given the governor authority over spending federal funds.

He also expressed concern about Lujan Grisham’s veto of a proposed $600 million appropriation of federal dollars to shore up the state’s unemployment fund that has been under strain during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That veto could lead to an increase in the unemployment tax rate for businesses that pay into the fund, Muñoz said.

But a Lujan Grisham spokeswoman suggested some of the federal dollars could, in fact, end up being funneled into the unemployment fund once the state gets guidance from the federal government on how the infusion of federal funds can be spent.

The governor also signed two other spending measures Friday — a $518 million capital outlay package and a supplementing appropriations bill.

The latter bill includes $110 million to fund efforts to improve broadband connectivity — there’s also more money for broadband included in other measures — and $100 million to repay a federal loan that was used last year to keep paying jobless benefits out of the state’s unemployment fund.


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