Capital outlay procedures need fixing

In a battle that pits some Democratic lawmakers against a Republican governor and the Attorney General’s Office against the Department of Finance and Administration, it really boils down to one question for taxpayers:

Are good fiscal policy and separation of powers mutually exclusive on the issue of capital outlay requirements?

Assistant Attorney General Sally Malavi says in a nonbinding legal opinion that by holding back nearly $24 million in funding for 91 projects around New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez wrongly impeded lawmakers’ appropriation authority. And that “although the requirements of the executive order may be reasonable and beneficial, the separation of powers mandated by the state constitution prevent the governor from adding additional conditions or obstacles to an agency’s appropriations that are not intended by the Legislature and inconsistent with the Legislature’s purpose.”

That said, it is impossible for the 12 Democratic state senators who sought the AG’s opinion to argue that it is fiscally responsible to turn over additional taxpayer dollars to government entities that haven’t kept up with statutorily required audits of the dollars they have already received.

All Martinez’s executive order requires is for cities and counties to comply with the law before getting another heapin’ helpin’ of taxpayer cash — to have up-to-date financial audits on file and to correct problems identified in audits before getting capital outlay funding.

Asking public officials to adequately account for what they’ve received before giving them even more doesn’t seem Draconian — especially considering New Mexico governments’ track records. Do Jemez Mountain Schools, Region III Housing Authority or Sunland Park ring any bells?

Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford says the administration disagrees with the AG’s legal interpretation and “will continue with the implementation of the executive order.” Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, says that gives Martinez a “perpetual veto” over the Legislature. Well, more like a practical way to ensure government officials follow the law and taxpayers don’t throw good money after bad.

That said, Cervantes is correct that the governor could have avoided the battle altogether by proposing “changes legislatively, and in that way develop a new procedure or requirements for capital outlay.”

She should in 2014. And her 12 Democratic critics should be the first to sign on.

— Albuquerque Journal