Says she did not have power to stop capital projects
State Attorney General Gary King issued an opinion Friday saying that the governor overstepped her authority when she suspended funding for 122 capital improvement projects across the state.
"The governor is not permitted under current law and the separation of powers mandated by the New Mexico Constitution to unilaterally withhold capital outlay funds properly appropriated by the Legislature," King said.
Twelve Democratic state senators last May asked the attorney general to review Gov. Susana Martinez's order that blocked $13.5 million in funding for projects statewide.
Martinez's administration said local governments were behind on audits or there were findings questioning public expenditures.
Martinez’s executive order established completed audits as a basic but critical financial standard.
“Millions of dollars are spent each year on capital projects in communities throughout our state,” she said at the time. “It’s important for the entities spending this money to show on a regular basis that they meet financial management standards.”
State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said the administration's contention that all local governments were behind on audits was incorrect.
Morales said he made sure that governments in his district had up-to-date audits before submitting any capital construction projects on their behalf. He said he was concerned that construction jobs and community improvements were being stalled unnecessarily.
But the overarching issue for Morales and other senators who challenged Martinez was about lines of authority. Senators said Martinez accepted a budget that included the capital projects, only to stop them two months later in a unilateral decision.
King said New Mexico courts have held that a violation of separation of powers occurs when a governor's actions "disrupt the proper balance" between the legislative and executive branches.
King said Martinez did just that in this instance.
Martinez's order suspended projects everywhere from the state’s biggest city to some of its smaller villages.
For instance, the city of Albuquerque was denied $738,000 and the village of Cloudcroft $225,000.
King, a Democrat, is seeking his party's nomination to run against Martinez next year. Morales also is a Democratic candidate for governor.