This letter is in response to the Albuquerque Journal’s editorial published on December 3, 2013 entitled “Good policy, law not mutually exclusive.”
Earlier this summer, 12 Democratic state senators requested an Attorney General (AG) opinion amid concerns that Gov. Martinez’s executive order to withhold capital outlay funds from projects appropriated by the legislature violated the separation of powers. It is curious that Gov. Martinez approved these same projects in the capital outlay bill just a few weeks before she issued the executive order. Her rationale must be, “I supported them before I opposed them.”
The Journal’s editorial supports the executive order despite the AG’s opinion that withholding the money is unconstitutional. Putting aside the constitutional arguments, the editorial focuses on the good policy of withholding “additional taxpayer money from government entities that haven’t kept up with statutorily required audits of the dollars they have already received.” (It should be noted that the dollars being withheld come from the sale of bonds paid by oil and gas revenue.)
Dr. Tom Clifford, secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) has indicated the administration will continue to implement the executive order, ostensibly to support good policy. DFA, according to its website, is the state agency “committed to sound fiscal management and ensuring accountability in the use of taxpayer dollars.” It is largely responsible for implementing the executive order. Unfortunately, the implementation does not include uniform or consistent application of its ad hoc rules, thereby making it difficult for many local government entities to comply with the executive order.
The implementation also does not include an acknowledgement that DFA’s finances are in disarray. It has been revealed that, contrary to state law, DFA has not reconciled its books with the state treasury for at least two years in amounts ranging from $60 million to $100 million. Any audit would consider this a “material weakness” that requires corrective action. Doesn’t it seem hypocritical that the agency responsible for getting local government entities to meet the administration’s standards doesn’t meet those same standards?
If, as the Journal’s editorial argues, the criterion for disbursing public money is to comply with state audit law, DFA would not be eligible to receive any taxpayer money in next fiscal year’s budget. The proponents of Governor Martinez’s executive order should agree that the legislature would be supporting good policy if it withheld taxpayer money from an agency after it learned that the agency does not have its financial books in order.
There is no question that government entities need to be held accountable for their handling of public money. But, it is in the public’s best interest that the administration demanding accountability is the first to be held accountable.