Originally called Decoration Day, the Memorial Day holiday officially recognizes all who died as members of the U.S. armed forces.
It’s not to be confused with Veterans Day, which celebrates all who have served or are serving, living or dead.
Memorial Day had its beginnings at the end of the Civil War, when the North and South went about commemorating the dead who fell in what remains the bloodiest war in American history.
To put that in perspective, if you adjust those figures to the population in the U.S. today (315 million), it would translate into well over 6 million dead and 11 million wounded.
One of the survivors of the Civil War was Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who, as a Union officer, was thrice wounded at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Antietam, and Chancellorsville, respectively. Holmes later became a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Holmes gave a Memorial Day speech on May 30, 1884 in Keene, New Hampshire, where he concluded by saying:
“Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen , the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
The top law enforcement position in the state is one of New Mexico’s most coveted elected offices but so far, only two Democrats and no Republicans have indicated they’ll run for New Mexico Attorney General.
Current State Auditor Hector Balderas and former Public Regulation Commission member Jason Marks have thrown their hats into the ring and figure to square off next June in the Democratic Party primary but thus far, no GOP candidates are in the field.
Matt Chandler, the state’s district attorney in Curry and Roosevelt counties and a Republican, is being talked about as a GOP nominee but Chandler told New Mexico Watchdog this week, “I’m still weighing my options.”
“I have been encouraged by many individuals across who have urged me to run but I haven’t made up my mind,” Chandler said. The filing deadline for statewide offices is Feb. 4, 2014.
In the meantime, a potential Balderas vs. Marks race matches two Democrats with statewide office experience.
“We believe we have the strongest record of accountability,” Balderas said of his two terms as State Auditor. “I think our chances will be very good.”
“I think the state needs a strong attorney general who represents the interests of ordinary New Mexicans,” said Marks, who at the first of this year wrapped up eight years on the PRC representing the Albuquerque area.
In fact, Marks stood out at the PRC as one of the few commissioners who went through his entire tenure without any of the personal scandals that dogged other members — such as Jerome Block Jr., who pled guilty to violating federal election laws and running up thousands of dollars on his state-issued credit card; Carol Sloan, who was convicted of two felony charges, and David King, who was sued for sexual harassment.
“With the history of the PRC, you become sensitive to efforts to increase government accountability,” Marks said, who wants to form an independent ethics commission in the state if he’s elected. “We have a perception of misconduct that is driven in part because we don’t get resolution in so many issues” in state governance, Marks said.
Because of term limits, Balderas wraps up his work as State Auditor at the end of this year.
“We believe we have one of the strongest records in the nation in terms of bringing accountability,” Balderas said. “Whether it’s been in our fights with Sunland Park or Jemez Mountain School District or even here within the financial institutions, we have brought reform.”
Balderas may be better known than Marks. Before serving as auditor, Balderas was a state representative and last year he ran against Martin Heinrich for U.S. Senate. Balderas lost by 18 points but his well-received TV ad highlighting his time growing up in the small town of Wagon Mound was seen by potential voters across the state.
“I’m working to increase my name recognition,” Marks said. “I’ve been doing that by travelling across the state and meeting people.”
Even though the race won’t be held until November of next year, an anti-Balderas website has appeared criticizing Balderas for his time as auditor and highlighting some of the political battles he’s had — including those with PRC commissioner Pat Lyons and with the outgoing Attorney General’s Office.
The site is sponsored and paid for by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is based in Washington D.C. and bills itself as “the only national organization whose mission is electing Republicans to state offices across the country.”
“There are obviously some very powerful out-of-state interests that are very afraid of our record,” Balderas said.
Unless a Republican enters the race, the primary between Marks and Balderas could be the de facto general election for attorney general. And if a Republican does enter, the road to victory could be difficult since New Mexico has not elected a Republican State Attorney General since Hal Stratton in 1986 and only three Republicans have held the office in New Mexico’s 101-year history of statehood.
In the meantime, the two Democrats are each angling for the “I’m for the average guy and gal” vote.
“I’ll bring people on board who can identify with ordinary people and their interests,” Marks said.
“Our No. 1 priority will be protecting families and bringing reform and accountability to New Mexico,” Balderas said.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
(In light of the recent scandals involving the IRS targeting conservative groups and the Obama administration’s Justice Department seizing phone records from journalists, New Mexico Watchdog asked former two-term governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson to offer his opinion on the controversies. Here’s Gov. Johnson’s response:)
By Gary Johnson │ Special to New Mexico Watchdog
For the past couple of weeks, the politicians in Washington, DC, have been engaged in their beloved sport of chasing “scandals.”
First, they were handed the gift of an Internal Revenue Service admission that certain non-profit organizations have been singled out for outrageous degrees of scrutiny and harassment.
And almost simultaneously, it came to light that the Department of Justice has been secretly spying on journalists — obtaining phone records, reading emails, and even tracking some of those journalists’ movements.
Congress is holding hearings as fast as they can schedule them, and the demands for “heads to roll” are growing every day.
Let me be clear: I don’t disagree that IRS harassment — targeted or otherwise — is scandalous. Nor do I disagree that it is, indeed, chilling that our government is spying on journalists. I certainly agree that heads should roll.
But … while the frenzy over these scandals is perhaps appropriate, we cannot let Congress and the politicians off the hook as they stumble over one another trying to get in front of the TV cameras.
The IRS did not appear out of nowhere. It is entirely a creation of decades of law-making and special interest politics that have produced a federal monster with almost 100,000 employees armed with 74,000 pages of rules and regulations. What do those regulations do? They enforce laws designed with remarkable elegance to reward, punish or manipulate almost every aspect of our lives and businesses.
It is not even a little shocking that a government given that much power and that many tools will abuse that power. If a parent hands a teenager the keys to a car with a case of beer in the back seat, should that parent be outraged when the kid gets a DUI or hurts himself or someone else?
Don’t forget. It was President Obama who stood before Congress in a State of the Union speech and decried the unfettered influence of non-profit advocacy groups. Now, he is flabbergasted that his 100,000 person IRS is making life difficult for some of those same groups.
The same goes for the “shocking” revelations that the Department of Justice is secretly obtaining citizens’ phone records, emails, and other personal information. Yes, when they do it to journalists, the stakes are raised a bit and legitimate concerns about the First Amendment come into play. But when we see members of Congress and Senators expressing their outrage, shouldn’t we be asking if they voted for the Patriot Act or any of the other laws that authorized DOJ to go forth and do those outrageous things?
In the frantic post 9/11 rush to “protect” us, both the Administration and Congress enacted laws and issued directives that, in a nutshell, said: “Do whatever you have to do, even if it means trampling on a few of the very rights we are supposed to be preserving.” Yes, at that painful juncture, a great many Americans were OK with that. But today, we are still living with those decisions — and those same politicians are somehow surprised that the behemoth they created is getting out of hand?
Perhaps Congress and all the outraged politicians should take a step back from the TV cameras and find a mirror. Raking bureaucrats over the coals when something goes awry is easy.
The hard part is facing the reality that those bureaucrats didn’t create the bloated government and the over-reaching authority that not only allows, but encourages, abuse.
If they truly need scapegoats, the mirror is the place to look.
A year ago, a series of embarrassing scandals involving sex, lies and videotape made the New Mexico border town of Sunland Park the target of plenty of jokes, but there isn’t much for state taxpayers to laugh about as the bill for monitoring the border town’s finances pile up.
On the one-year anniversary of the announcement that state government officials in Santa Fe would oversee Sunland Park’s financial transactions, New Mexico Watchdog has learned the price tag for taxpayers is estimated at a quarter-million dollars — and the full-time state employee who has lived in Sunland Park since last summer may need to stay another year.
“We aren’t going to leave until we have that level of comfort that we’re not going to find ourselves back in this situation in another year down the road,” said Ryan Gleason, the local government division director for the Department of Finance and Administration.
In the wake of arrests in 2012 stemming from a mayoral race that included charges of bribery and video of a stripper, as well as charges — and subsequent convictions — of voter fraud, the DFA sent representatives to Sunland Park to try to sort through the town’s messy financial records after State Auditor Hector Balderas reported instances of widespread financial fraud.
On May 14 of last year, several members of the DFA and other state agencies descended on the town of 18,000 that hugs the borders of Texas and Mexico and froze the city’s bank accounts, changed the signature cards for city checks and put new locks on the filing cabinets. DFA Secretary Tom Clifford suspended city officials and DFA assumed the duties of the town’s finance director.
Then officials sifted through the city’s disorganized and missing financial records.
“I don’t know that I have the words to describe how bad they were,” Gleason said.
A month later, DFA assigned Michael Steininger to physically move to Sunland Park to make sense of those records and act as finance director.
Gleason said Steininger lives out of an RV he owns and travels to his home in Valencia County on weekends to see his family. With salary, expenses and estimated reimbursements to the state auditor’s office, Gleason said taxpayers’ costs to monitor Sunland Park’s finances is “safely $250,000, all told.”
Steininger often works “75-80 hours a week,” Gleason said, and Sunland Park’s financial records are now in good enough shape that on Friday a much-anticipated report will come from the city’s independent public auditor. It will mark the first time in at least two years that Sunland Park has been able to produce audits.
“There is still a lot of data entry that needs to be done to ensure we know how much money they really have,” Gleason said, “but it’s a fairly remarkable improvement in the quality of the records.”
Plenty of work remains
A new, 25-year-old mayor — Javier Perea — has received kudos in his efforts to turn things around since taking over in August.
“It’s a challenge, I don’t deny that,” Perea told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview. “I felt a duty as a citizen of this city to try to change things.”
A graduate of New Mexico State with a degree in business administration, Perea is a getting an unofficial doctorate in business and government management every day he comes to city hall, where he often works side-by-side with Steininger.
“We get along well,” Perea said. “We’ll think things through together. I keep him in the loop and he keeps me in the loop.”
Perea and Gleason emphasized that DFA does not dictate financial decisions for Sunland Park.
“If they want to pave a road, let’s say, that’s up to the city council to decide,” Gleason said. “We simply tell them that whatever you decide, make sure you follow the procurement code, make sure you have the money, make sure you follow the correct procedure.”
Some members of the city council have grumbled about DFA oversight, Perea said, but generally, city officials approve.
“They’ve been beneficial,” Perea said. “I think things would have proceeded much slower (without DFA). They’ve been a great asset.”
In the overall scheme of a New Mexico state budget of nearly $6 billion, the expenses in the past year in Sunland Park is a drop in the bucket, but Gleason and Perea acknowledge that, for taxpayers, $250,000 is real money.
“It’s in everybody’s best interests that we get this cleaned up as quickly as we can and get Sunland Park back to running Sunland Park,” Gleason said.
“I know that people outside of Sunland Park would say, ‘the city got itself into this,’ ” Perea said. “But there are a lot of good people here who want to do good work. We want to change things. Be patient with us.”
A review of some of the recent Sunland Park scandals:
*In August 2011, then-mayor Martin Resendiz admitted in a deposition that he was drunk when he signed nine contracts with a California firm that’s suing the border town. The story prompted jokes from George Lopez on national television.
*In February 2012, extortion charges were filed against a mayoral candidate who allegedly tried to blackmail an opponent who was shown receiving a lap dance from a topless woman on videotape. Daniel Salinas — the alleged extortion guy — defeated Gerardo Hernandez — the lap dance guy — in city elections but could not assume office because the charges against him stipulated that he could not step foot into city hall.
*Later in 2012, Salinas and city manager Jaime Aguilera entered the equivalent of not guilty pleas to extortion charges.
*In May 2012, State Auditor Hector Balderas said his office confirmed that Salinas spent more than $42,000 from the city’s Border Crossing Fund to “pay for prostitutes for Salinas and the City’s former public information officer, Arturo Alba, during a trip to Mexico.”
*In March, former city employee Silvia Gomez admitted to multiple charges of voter fraud for inducing non-residents to vote in the 2012 Sunland Park elections, which were marred by allegations of voter tampering.
*At the most recent count, at least five Sunland Park officials have entered plea bargains while at least five others — including former Mayor Pro Tem Salinas, who faces 29 counts including extortion and conspiracy — are still awaiting trial.
Here are excerpts of New Mexico Watchdog’s interview with Ryan Gleason of the Department of Finance and Administration:
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
Angry at disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service has admitted targeting tea party groups and conservative organizations, an estimated 130 residents protested at the IRS office in Albuquerque during the lunch hour Tuesday (May 21).
Many of the protesters were members of the Albuquerque and Rio Rancho tea parties and a line covered the block along Montgomery Boulevard, spilling onto the adjacent block as others gathered in the median and across the street.
The protest was part of a loosely organized response from conservatives across the country who gathered in front of a number of IRS buildings in such locations as Washington D.C., Atlanta, Kansas City, Denver and Houston.
On Capitol Hill Tuesday, former IRS chief Douglas Shulman, who vacated his position last November, told the Senate Finance Committee he didn’t learn details about extra scrutiny placed on tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status until he read last week’s report by the Treasury inspector general.
When pressed on how the targeting could have occurred in the first place, Shulman said, “Mr. Chairman, I can’t say. I can’t say that I know that answer.”
As first reported by New Mexico Watchdog, the Albuquerque Tea Party was one of those organizations that saw its application for non-profit 501(c)4 status delayed by the IRS. Rick Harbaugh, that group’s president, said his organization has been wrangling with the IRS for nearly four years.
“The abuses we saw was in the sheer volume of stuff they were demanding … that’s harassment,” said Harbaugh, who attended Tuesday’s protest. “We asked a number of CPAs who have experience with this if this was typical. By and large, they said, ‘this is crazy.’ ”
Harbaugh said the Albuquerque Tea Party has sent the IRS “20 inches of documentation” in response to questions.
In an odd twist, New Mexico Watchdog learned that the IRS asked about an 83-year-old great-grandmother and Albuquerque resident who spent four years in a World War II internment camp. Click here to read that story.
In the meantime, conservative legal firm American Center for Law and Justice is representing the Albuquerque Tea Party and 26 other organizations, demanding the IRS grant them the non-profit status they’ve been seeking.
“Regardless of whether the IRS complies, we are still planning on a filing a lawsuit,” ACLJ spokesman Gene Kapp told New Mexico Watchdog, citing what Kapp said was the agency’s “abhorrent and unconstitutional conduct.”
Harbaugh said the Albuquerque Tea Party’s board will meet later this month to decide whether it will join in the lawsuit.
“How would you feel if the IRS was sending you letters saying they’re looking over your shoulder every minute,” Harbaugh asked. “It affects potential donors…who wants to donate if they fear that in the back of their minds the IRS is looking at you?”
Gov. Susana Martinez seems to have kept her approval-ratings winning streak intact.
For nearly a year and a half, the Republican governor — the first Hispanic female governor of any party in the U.S. — has finished with approval ratings above the 60 percent mark in a series of different polls.
In the KOB/Survey USA poll released Monday (May 20), 62 percent of men and 70 percent of women gave Martinez favorable marks and 64 percent of independent voters and even 44 percent of Democrats surveyed are pleased with her job performance.
Martinez will run for a second term in November of 2014. So far, the only Democrats to announce that they’ll run against Martinez are Attorney General Gary King and state Sen. Linda Lopez. State Sen. Tim Keller has said he’s considering running for governor or state auditor. Keller recently told New Mexico Watchdog he’ll make a decision at the end of this month.
KOB/Survey USA also released a poll on the upcoming mayoral race in Albuquerque.
Mayor Richard Berry received 59 percent, compared to 17 percent for Pete Dinelli and and 9 percent for Paul Heh with 15 percent undecided.
The mayoral election will be held this coming October.
Here’s the KOB-TV story on the poll numbers for the mayor’s race:
The New Mexico State football team hasn’t played in a bowl game since 1960.
The Aggies haven’t fielded a team with a winning record since 2002 and attendance has slipped.
Now the hottest debate on the Las Cruces campus is whether the football team should keep playing at the college football’s highest level , consider going down a step or even be abolished altogether.
From the Albuquerque Journal on Monday (May 20):
LAS CRUCES – Members of the New Mexico State University community are pushing back against Regents Chairman Mike Cheney’s public exhortation that Aggies support athletics, in particular the long-struggling football program.
A petition on the website change.org urges the five-member Board of Regents to “stop diverting funds from academics to support failing athletics programs.” The petition, launched last Monday, had been signed by more than 300 people, including alumni and current students, by Friday.
Earlier this month before he was selected as NMSU’s new president, Garrey Carruthers floated the idea of having the Aggies moved down a notch to the Big Sky Conference.
“They’re not eligible for BCS bowls,” Carruthers told the Las Cruces Sun-News. “But what do you think our prospects of getting (to) a BCS bowl anytime soon will be anyway? Not great. I think there’s some other conferences around, where our athletics budget would actually be at the top of the list instead of at the bottom in terms of how much money we’re spending.”
In the meantime, the Aggies will play this coming season as an independent — after the Western Athletic Conference essentially imploded as a football conference — and in 2014 will play in the Sun Belt Conference.
The Internal Revenue Service not only wanted a wide variety of information from the Albuquerque Tea Party‘s application for non-profit status, it also wanted to know what contacts it had with people from other political organizations too.
That included an 83-year-old great-grandmother who was once held in a World War II internment camp, New Mexico Watchdog has discovered.
“I’ve always paid my taxes and everything,” Marianne Chiffelle told New Mexico Watchdog. “What I do think is, it doesn’t surprise me…because of this government we have at the moment.”
According to a review of documents conducted by the online news organization Politico, (in a story headlined “The IRS wants YOU — to share everything”), the IRS asked the Albuquerque Tea Party about connections to other groups, including “Marianne Chiffelle’s Breakfasts.”
That prompted us to do some digging.
It took New Mexico Watchdog less than an hour to learn that “Marianne Chiffelle’s Breakfasts” is not some restaurant chain, but a reference to the volunteer work of Chiffelle, a retiree who helps organize informal 9 a.m. meetings for members of the Bernalillo County Republican Party.
The group meets on Fridays at the Golden Corral restaurant at the corner of Eubank and Central.
“We’ve had these meetings for a long time,” Chiffelle said. “It’s not a business.”
Chiffelle is a naturalized American citizen who was born in what was then called the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia. Her father was an executive for Shell Oil and when World War II broke out Chiffelle was sent to a Japanese internment camp between the ages of 12 to 16.
After the war, she moved to the Netherlands and in 1960 she and her late husband immigrated to the United States.
Since living in Albuquerque, Chiffelle has been active in GOP politics and conservative causes. She helped establish the Children’s Freedom Scholarship Fund, which hands out patriotic coloring books to youngsters in the Albuquerque area.
“The kids don’t have any idea, they think freedom is just there for the taking,” Chiffelle said.
The book includes pictures of U.S. presidents and puzzles for kids to learn about U.S. history, as well as essays such as “What Does Freedom Mean to You?”
New Mexico Watchdog obtained a copy of the coloring book and found nothing advocating for certain political parties or organizations.
Recent entries on Chiffelle’s Facebook page include a link to a call for cuts in salaries to members of Congress, the vice president and president, as well as a petition to send a sympathy card to those affected by the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
While no fan of the Obama administration, Chiffelle says she is no pitchfork-wielding, anti-government type.
“The fact itself that you have to pay tax(es) to the government is okay,” she said. “But the way they interpret it and you how many rules there are, that’s wrong.”
The IRS is embroiled in a national scandal after revealing that it has targeted tea party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for non-profit, 501(c)4 status. The Albuquerque Tea Party is one of the organizations that’s been wrangling with the IRS since 2009.
“They (the IRS) have a job to do, I understand that,” Albuquerque Tea Party president Rick Harbaugh told New Mexico Watchdog. “I think they overstepped that a lot.” Clarification: Some readers have asked how the IRS got the phrase “Marianne Chiffelle Breakfasts” in the first place. Harbaugh says his group gave the IRS the name after the agency asked them to disclose all connections to political entities.
The Politico story mentioned the IRS also wanted the Albuquerque Tea Party to supply more information about a group called Conspiracy Brews.
An internet search revealed that Conspiracy Brews is a weekly meeting of Albuquerque political types that was founded by Janice Arnold-Jones — a former Republican nominee for Congress, member of the state legislature and current Albuquerque City Council member.
“It’s just a discussion group,” Arnold-Jones said. “When the group named itself it was done in the interests of a conspiracy for good government…it leans conservative but it’s an interesting mix of people. Our only rule is, when people speak you have to listen.”
“I attended just one meeting,” Harbaugh said.
The website design for Conspiracy Brews is simple and New Mexico Watchdog found no anti-government rhetoric on the site.
Arnold-Jones said she does not lead the group and it’s “not a taxable entity of any sort.”
New Mexico Watchdog counted 25 attendees at the group’s weekly Saturday meeting — including Chiffelle, who is a regular.
The Politico story mentioning Conspiracy Brews and Chiffelle prompted some jokes but also some serious discussion.
“The part I’m not delighted about,” Arnold-Jones said, “is the fact that the IRS is picking and choosing (whom to investigate) … I think this is an incredible erosion of trust.”
As for Chiffelle, having her name mentioned as part of the IRS investigation has drawn more attention than she’s accustomed to but she seemed genuinely unperturbed.
“Don’t cut me short,” Chiffelle said. “I was a prisoner of war in the second world war. If the Japanese couldn’t kill me, no one else can. That’s my philosophy. If something is unfair, I will fight to the death…Nothing upsets me. But I’ll do something about it.”
Here’s our interview with Chiffelle:
Do universities in New Mexico spend too much money on what’s called “institutional support” compared to academic support and instruction?
A New Mexico Watchdog investigation into schools of higher education in the state shows that in an 11-year period, spending for services associated with running a university has almost uniformly risen much faster than spending on education and academics in general.
Here’s what we found after looking at spending at New Mexico’s six public universities, using figures that schools across the country give to the U.S. Department of Education through its data system (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System or IPEDS), that goes back to the 2000-2001 academic year:Spending increases between 2000-01 and 2010-11 Institutional Support Academic Support Instruction UNM 99.8% 56.7% 79.4% NMSU 78.5% 69.2% 60.3% NM Tech 107.8% -4.7% 47.4% NM Highlands 62.3% 21.6% 19.5% Eastern NM 65.0% 66.6% 72.6% Western NM 99.6% 41.5% 103.2%
Generally speaking, standard expense categories across the country define “institutional support” as administrative services, executive management, legal and fiscal operations, public relations, etc. Academic support is commonly associated with classwork, libraries, etc. and instruction generally refers to activities directly related to instruction including faculty salaries and benefits, office supplies and administration of academic departments.
With the exception of Western New Mexico University and Eastern New Mexico University, “institutional support” saw the greatest growth, with New Mexico Tech seeing a 107.8 percent increase in little more than a decade while academic support actually saw a decrease at Tech during that time frame.
Another interesting wrinkle is that back in 2000-01, academic spending and institutional spending at the two largest universities in the state (the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State) were just about identical but in the succeeding years institutional spending rose 99.8 percent at UNM and 78.5 percent at NMSU compared to 56.7 percent in academic spending at UNM and 69.2 percent at NMSU. (You can see the year-to-year breakdown of all six schools at the bottom of this story.)
The figures don’t come as a surprise to Jonathan Robe, a research fellow at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which takes a critical look at what the D.C.-based organization calls “the rising costs and stagnant efficiency in higher education.”
“Some of these numbers (in New Mexico) are in line with national numbers,” Robe said, citing a recent paper showing that for every dollar public research universities in the U.S. spend on what’s called involuntary spending, they spend $2 on voluntary spending.
“A lot of this is going to support administrative staff and salaries rather than education and that may give the public pause,” Robe said.
New Mexico Watchdog e-mailed all six universities for comment and received responses from officials UNM and NMSU.
The senior vice president for administration and finance at NMSU, Angela Throneberry, said the IPEDS finance survey changed between 2001 and 2011 so “making any direct comparison between the two periods (is) inaccurate” and that NMSU’s “allocation of Instruction and General expenditures by function has actually remained fairly consistent over the last 10 years.”
A spokesperson for UNM pointed to data the New Mexico Council of University President’s “Performance Effectiveness Plan” showing that UNM is below peers on administrative costs – 5.8 percent of budget compared to 8.1 percent.
UNM Regent Bradley Hosmer said in an e-mail that “The three categories used in IPEDS are not carefully defined” and that “significant sums can be moved from one category to another inadvertently.”
In fact, New Mexico Watchdog originally tried to simply look at whether there had been a significant increase in the number of administrators at New Mexico universities in recent years but the numbers within individual schools fluctuated — sometimes wildly — from year to year.
Robe conducted a quick search for New Mexico Watchdog at UNM, NMSU and New Mexico Highlands since 1993 and came back with numbers that varied so much from year to year that the whole dataset for judging who is defined as a full-time executive was called into question:Full-time executives 1993 2001 2007 2011 NMHU 35 N/A 39 44 UNM 81 92 642 129 NMSU 47 35 97 310
“The problem with tracking administrators,” Robe said, “is that their positions are defined by what the institutions want to say it is.”
The numbers are so mushy that the new president of the University of Minnesota made headlines six months ago when, after pledging to cut administrative overhead, he learned his own school officials couldn’t tell him how much money it takes to run the school.
“The more questions I asked, the less happy I was,” Dr. Eric Kaler told the Wall Street Journal, which discovered through its own investigation that the University of Minnesota system had added more than 1,000 administrators since 2001.
UNM’s Hosmer echoed the sentiments about the shifting numbers in a brief interview during a recent Board of Regents meeting about the NM Watchdog investigation.
“You gotta get down below those labels,” Hosmer said, adding that “we don’t know how carefully (the IPEDS numbers) are monitored.”
Update 5/23: UNM director communication Dianne Anderson sent New Mexico Watchdog a chart composed by the Wall Street Journal of administrative costs at 72 public universities with high research activity. It showed that UNM scored at 5 percent in 2010-2011 in administrative spending as to the total percent spent per student — putting it on the lower end of the schools surveyed: http://graphics.wsj.com/documents/NONCLASS1212/
The tug-of-war on institutional vs. academic spending comes at a time when college tuitions keep rising, student debt is spiraling and critics are questioning whether universities have lost sight of their ultimate mission — and in some cases, wondering if college is even the right choice for some students.
“It really isn’t the cost of college,” said Dr. Richard Vedder, who heads the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. “It’s the cost relative to what you’re getting out of it. The data still show the incomes of people who go to college exceeds those of people who have just a high school education but we are finding a growing part of our labor force who go to college and are ending up unable to get jobs in professional, technical and managerial levels.”
Last month, another New Mexico Watchdog investigation showed IPEDS data revealing that tuition had increased between 87.8 percent to 169 percent at the state’s six public universities since the 1999-2000 school year.
A longtime professor at Johns Hopkins, Benjamin Ginsberg, has written a book called “The Fall of The Faculty,” that decries what he says is rampant growth of the number of administrators at the nation’s universities and former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett just published his own book, bluntly entitled “Is College Worth It?” that charges that “most of higher education fails most students.”
It’s selling so briskly that at the time of this story, the book is temporarily out of stock on Amazon.com.
Others have criticized what they say is unnecessarily luxurious facilities on college campuses while just this week, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported the median salary of public university presidents rose 4.7 percent in 2011-12 to more than $440,000 a year.
“More people from different political perspectives — anywhere from the Tea Parties to Occupy Wall Street — are talking about colleges and universities,” Robe said. “Colleges get revenue for federal aid but who gets stuck? … The spending increases may be justifiable but I think the public would like to see leaders make the case more transparently, rather than vague explanations that ‘education is important.’ ”
Hosmer cautions against making comparisons between one New Mexico university and another. “NM Tech competes with a somewhat different peer group (than UNM),” he said in an e-mail, “as does NMSU and others.”
But after going over some of the numbers with New Mexico Watchdog at the UNM Board of Regents meeting, Hosmer said, “You’re asking very good questions.”
Here’s the breakdown among the six New Mexico schools:NMHU Spending increases between 2000-01 and 2010-11 Institutional Support Academic Support Instruction 2000-2001 $3,793,350 $2,448,479 $16,768,996 2001-2002 $3,622,613 $2,558,039 $17,519,333 2002-2003 $4,677,762 $2,187,066 $16,290,997 2003-2004 $4,494,277 $2,371,249 $15,908,331 2004-2005 $5,209,917 $2,323,569 $17,216,728 2005-2006 $4,553,224 $2,376,621 $15,463,559 2006-2007 $5,434,194 $2,530,580 $15,182,620 2007-2008 $5,388,681 $2,691,979 $16,144,439 2008-2009 $5,974,463 $2,910,961 $17,005,859 2009-2010 $6,724,733 $3,129,486 $20,523,068 2010-2011 $6,157,419 $2,978,361 $20,036,962 difference since 00-01: $2,364,069 $529,882 $3,267,966 62.3% 21.6% 19.5% NM Tech Spending increases between 2000-01 and 2010-11 Institutional Support Academic Support Instruction 2000-2001 $3,292,573 $1,811,506 $11,402,164 2001-2002 $4,733,137 $1,310,578 $11,308,483 2002-2003 $5,154,904 $1,349,791 $12,135,546 2003-2004 $5,545,305 $1,604,429 $12,630,027 2004-2005 $5,784,312 $1,801,560 $14,523,612 2005-2006 $6,422,882 $2,223,930 $14,197,970 2006-2007 $7,106,023 $2,116,909 $15,007,271 2007-2008 $5,900,650 $2,092,905 $15,471,082 2008-2009 $6,178,685 $1,694,439 $15,554,407 2009-2010 $6,159,402 $1,552,035 $15,610,993 2010-2011 $6,842,150 $1,726,467 $16,816,894 difference since 00-01: $3,549,577 ($85,039) 5,414,730 107.8% -4.7% 47.4% NMSU main campus Spending increases between 2000-01 and 2010-11 Institutional Support Academic Support Instruction 2000-2001 $14,584,310 $14,337,211 $72,108,810 2001-2002 $15,391,028 $14,376,207 $77,577,646 2002-2003 $15,221,125 $14,049,715 $79,554,872 2003-2004 $15,761,127 $15,062,394 $79,905,403 2004-2005 $18,270,978 $15,674,482 $82,714,176 2005-2006 $19,412,822 $17,557,869 $85,741,239 2006-2007 $21,446,363 $17,214,608 $89,078,923 2007-2008 $22,558,108 $19,152,909 $95,266,026 2008-2009 $26,425,116 $19,374,872 $117,602,394 2009-2010 $24,227,388 $22,781,073 $114,861,668 2010-2011 $26,045,283 $24,261,560 $115,629,162 difference $11,460,913 $9,885,353 $43,520,352 since 00-01: 78.5% 69.2% 60.3% UNM main campus Spending increases between 2000-01 and 2010-11 Institutional Support Academic Support Instruction 2000-2001 $26,516,746 $28,018,896 $142,816,521 2001-2002 $26,187,137 $24,850,603 $158,028,139 2002-2003 $27,910,675 $28,345,813 $161,488,418 2003-2004 $28,135,850 $28,330,645 $168,339,906 2004-2005 $41,932,810 $32,553,543 $174,546,367 2005-2006 $44,374,858 $32,960,478 $180,883,499 2006-2007 $47,488,796 $35,840,449 $191,619,655 2007-2008 $53,346,011 $37,195,835 $207,618,525 2008-2009 $55,701,218 $40,199,774 $219,751,778 2009-2010 $53,691,519 $45,837,066 $263,204,448 2010-2011 $53,004,937 $43,916,344 $256,292,554 difference $26,488,191 $15,897,448 $113,476,033 since 00-01: 99.8% 56.7% 79.4% WNMU Spending increases between 2000-01 and 2010-11 Institutional Support Academic Support Instruction 2000-2001 $2,479,945 $1,593,830 $8,534,299 2001-2002 $3,264,299 $1,567,434 $9,478,925 2002-2003 $3,479,069 $1,712,334 $9,965,572 2003-2004 $3,387,329 $1,851,925 $11,565,563 2004-2005 $3,367,948 $1,954,252 $11,904,618 2005-2006 $3,776,586 $1,843,903 $12,900,093 2006-2007 $3,519,301 $1,329,622 $14,087,325 2007-2008 $3,599,931 $1,489,186 $14,399,808 2008-2009 $3,766,316 $1,466,514 $13,853,903 2009-2010 $4,494,358 $2,353,036 $17,367,459 2010-2011 $4,948,755 $2,254,531 $17,342,045 difference $2,468,810 $660,701 $8,807,746 since 00-01: 99.6% 41.5% 103.2% ENMU main campus Spending increases between 2000-01 and 2010-11 Institutional Support Academic Support Instruction 2000-2001 $3,900,729 $2,820,309 $13,143,457 2001-2002 $4,322,554 $2,954,568 $13,709,065 2002-2003 $6,849,996 $3,214,738 $14,138,346 2003-2004 $3,875,579 $3,063,926 $15,108,747 2004-2005 $4,018,366 $3,384,525 $15,312,827 2005-2006 $4,145,199 $3,652,550 $16,171,018 2006-2007 $4,510,121 $3,288,498 $16,879,791 2007-2008 $5,120,043 $3,274,312 $19,653,098 2008-2009 $6,432,992 $3,746,526 $23,515,505 2009-2010 $6,598,605 $3,854,025 $23,136,465 2010-2011 $6,436,601 $4,698,204 $22,687,704 difference $2,535,872 $1,877,895 $9,544,247 since 00-01: 65.0% 66.6% 72.6%
The new boss at the U.S. Department of the Interior has established a new rule for hydraulic fracturing (commonly called “fracking”) on federal lands that seems to have pleased neither environmentalists nor oil and gas producers.
According to the Associated Press, new Interior secretary Sally Jewell and the Obama administration announced Thursday (May 16) that companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands will be required to disclose publicly the chemicals used in fracking operations.
Not surprisingly, oil and gas producers complained about the ruling, saying it’s unnecessary.
But at least one environmental group complained too, saying the decision is a watered-down version of an earlier proposal.
“It is clear what happened: the Bureau of Land Management caved to the wealthy and powerful oil and gas industry and left the public to fend for itself,” Jessica Ennis, a spokeswoman for the environmental group Earthjustice told AP.
A big reason for the complaint from environmentalists hinges on the ruling calling for disclosure of chemicals to go to a group called FracFocus, a voluntary site where companies self-report.
Critics say FracFocus allows companies to avoid disclosure by declaring certain chemicals trade secrets and point to a report by Harvard Law School last month that asserted the site is plagued by loopholes.
An official with Interior said if problems arise with FracFocus the federal government will make changes.
Jewell called the ruling a “common-sense update” that increases safety, adding, “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is important that the public has full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place.”
According to the Interior Department, domestic production from more than 92,000 oil and gas wells on public lands accounts for about 13 percent of the nation’s natural gas production and 5 percent of U.S. oil production.
In an Interior report last year, oil and gas activity on BLM-managed lands in New Mexico was linked to 47,807 direct jobs and $10.9 billion in direct output.
Click here to read the entire AP story.
A sobering report came from the Legislative Finance Committee at the Roundhouse on Tuesday (Mary 15), citing figures that will put more strain on the state’s health care system.
Among the findings?
*Some 62 percent of adults in New Mexico were overweight or obese in 2009, and
*New Mexico’s percentage of its population over the age of 60 is already higher than the national average and will get higher in the next 17 years. By 2030 one-third of the state’s population will be aged 60 or higher. Here’s the graphic:
For years, New Mexico has had a shortage of doctors, dentists and nurses and with an aging and increasingly overweight population — not to mention the uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act, (“Obamacare”) which kicks in next year — “the state can expect even greater healthcare access problems,” the LFC report said.
That means longer wait times.
The report calls for “a more coordinated approach to healthcare service delivery.”
Here’s the link to the report:
It’s not just a pipe dream: Japan is interested in acquiring natural gas from New Mexico.
But whether it will ever get across the Pacific Ocean is an open question.
An executive for Japan’s state-run energy corporation has been touring of New Mexico natural gas facilities this week and met on Monday (May 13) with Lt. Governor John Sanchez to discuss establishing a trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan that would include acquiring natural gas from New Mexico.
“We are searching for liquefied natural gas,” Hidehiro Muramatsu of the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation told New Mexico Watchdog during a reception with oil and gas executives. “In my opinion, it’s a pragmatic and practical way to transport natural gas from the state of New Mexico.”
As first reported by New Mexico Watchdog, Japan is actively searching for less expensive energy sources and considers New Mexico’s rich supplies of natural gas as a potential solution.
In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan has virtually shut down its nuclear facilities. Muramatsu said only two of the country’s 49 reactors have restarted and Japan has shifted to natural gas to satisfy its energy needs.
But the price of natural gas in Japan is four times more expensive than natural gas in North America.
That’s why Japanese officials want to invest billions to ship gas overseas and are looking at the United States, Canada and Mexico as potential trade partners to supply an estimated 400,000 tons of natural gas per year.
New Mexico’s San Juan Basin and the Permian Basin have plenty of natural gas and low prices in the U.S. in recent years have soured the economies in the regions. A boost in production could be a game-changer.
An increase in natural gas production wouldn’t just help the state’s energy companies but would translate into a boon for New Mexico’s state government revenues.
Taxes on oil and gas revenues make up a big chunk of the state’s general fund and New Mexico gets more bang for its energy buck from natural gas. It’s estimated that a $1 increase in the price per barrel of oil translates into about $4 million to the state’s general fund but a 10-cent increase in the price per thousand cubic feet of natural gas translates into $10 million extra into New Mexico’s coffers.
“This deal has the potential to increase New Mexico’s economic base,” Sanchez said. “Let’s look for new markets.”
But there are obstacles, both logistical and political.
First, in order to ship natural gas overseas, it has to liquefied and while there are facilities in Texas and Louisiana that do that, a facility on the West Coast is preferable.
But getting an LNG facility built in California is an iffy proposition.
“It’s very difficult to construct a new factory in the state of California,” said Muramatsu. “The environmental regulations are very stringent.”
“There’s not a lot of delivery infrastructure in Washington (state) or Oregon compared to California,” Manatt said. “So will California stand in the way? Can California stand in the way? Will the Obama administration — and I’m not making a political statement — but will they say to California, this is the for the benefit of all the American people, New Mexico included, and we’re going to allow for the development of an LNG export facility on federal lands on the west coast of California?”
The U.S. has competition for the lucrative Japanese natural gas market.
Canada is considering constructing an LNG facility on the coast of British Columbia. Last month, Japanese officials took part in an energy forum with Canadian producers and political leaders.
Japan is also in discussions with the Mexican government.
“There are a number of potential LNG terminals in Mexico,” said Manatt.
Second, a potential U.S. natural gas deal with Japan would entail getting the federal government to approve a free trade agreement with Japan.
And a number of U.S. corporations such as Dow Chemical are opposed to a natural gas deal because it would drive up domestic natural gas prices. Critics say Dow and the other companies want to block a potential deal because, as big consumers of natural gas, their costs will go up.
Then there are environmentalists, who are opposed to increasing natural gas production in the U.S. because more production means more hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which they say could endanger ground water.
“We are so against this,” Eleanor Bravo of Food and Water Watch – New Mexico said last month. “This will mean more fracking — you can’t get around it … Shipping this stuff across the ocean increases our carbon footprint … and it delays our instituting of renewables.”
But both of New Mexico’s members in the U.S. Senate – Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich – who have strong ties with environmental groups — have told New Mexico Watchdog they approve of a natural gas deal with Japan.
“I think it’s good for New Mexico,” Sen. Udall said last week from his Washington D.C. office.
Muramatsu says he estimates that Japan will start importing natural gas from North America by 2017.
Which country will win the race for Japan is the billion-dollar question.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at email@example.com and reach him on Twitter at @nmwatchdog
First, it was the administration of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
Then, it was Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall.
Now, Democratic U.S. House of Representatives member Ben Ray Luján is complaining about the Obama administration’s 5.1 percent reduction for states who get mineral and energy royalties from the federal government.
On Tuesday (May 14), Rep. Luján joined other members of the House by introducing legislation that would prevent the U.S. Department of the Interior from cuts the admnistration says it’s forced to make because of the budget sequester on Capitol Hill.
“The state’s share of these funds is just that – the state’s share – and should not be withheld by the federal government due to sequestration,” Luján said in a statement of the States Mineral Protection Act, which is also sponsored by a number of western representatives that include Republicans, and also calls for eliminating a 2 percent fee that the federal government charges for collection of the royalties.
The House bill is a companion to a Senate version that Udall and two Wyoming Republican senators have introduced.
The Obama administration — working through the Department of the Interior — has imposed the cuts to states that derive royalties from mineral and energy development that occur on federally-leased state lands.
“The sequester is a failed experiment – one that I have been opposed to every step of the way – that is harming New Mexico and should be repealed in full,” Luján said. “But absent a comprehensive solution, Congress should stand up to protect funds that belong to the states and play a vital role in our communities.”
In 2012, New Mexico received about $488 million in mineral and energy extraction royalties from the Mineral Leasing Act and the 5 percent cut translates into a $26 million hit for the state, second only to Wyoming, which is losing $53 million.
The cuts were announced in late March, which prompted howls from a number of governors in western states, including Gov. Martinez who told New Mexico Watchdog on April 5 that her administration is looking into filing a lawsuit to fight the reductions.
Is this a preview of the advertising battle we’ll see in the 2014 governor’s race?
Sen. Keller, who has been mulling a possible run to challenge Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, wasn’t aware that the video had been posted until contacted Monday afternoon (May 13) by New Mexico Watchdog.
“I’ve got a long track record of bi-partisan accomplishments and working with people on the other side of the aisle,” said Keller, who has been known as a legislator who often involves himself in fiscal issues and holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School. “They must think pretty highly of me if they’re going to put this out.”
“We felt the people of New Mexico need to see what he’s actually saying in his statements,” state Republican Party spokesperson Jamie Dickerman told New Mexico Watchdog. “When it’s convenient, he changes the message to fit the audience.”
The video is composed of a series of soundbites that Keller has made over the course of the last couple of years.
In the past legislative session, Keller was selected by his party colleagues in the Legislature as Senate Democratic whip and last month, Keller addressed state Democrats at its annual central committee and said that Gov. Martinez “is nothing but talking points and empty rhetoric.”
Keller has not officially announced whether he’ll run for governor. Attorney General Gary King and state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque have said they’ll throw their hats into the ring and Sens. Howie Morales and Joseph Cervantes have reportedly been weighing their options.
Keller told New Mexico Watchdog he’s also contemplating a run for state auditor. Keller says he expects to make an announcement about his statewide plans by the end of this month.
Here’s the Keller video:
News over the weekend that the Internal Revenue Service admitted targeting tea party groups and other conservative organizations across the country wasn’t shocking to the leader of the Albuquerque Tea Party.
They’ve been a target since 2009, Albuquerque Tea Party President RiIck Harbaugh told New Mexico Watchdog on Monday.
“I’d call it harassment,” Harbaugh said. “They’re trying to keep us from stepping even one inch over the line. We are always hesitating to express our viewpoints and have the IRS jump down our throats. Most other 501(c)4′s don’t face this constant threat.”
Under IRS rules, an organization with a 501(c)4 designation is classified as a nonprofit that is allowed a tax exemption for providing “social welfare.” A number of political groups of all stripes fall into this category. But in recent days, the IRS confirmed what many tea party organizations had been complaining about — conservative groups had been singled out.
Lois Lerner, the director the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations, confirmed Friday that organizations had been given additional scrutiny if their applications included the words “tea party” or “patriot.”
The admission caused a political furor that had even political rivals of the tea party fuming.
“This is outrageous,” said Democratic consultant Chris Kofinis told the National Journal, adding, “This is not a right-left issue.”
Harbaugh said the Albuquerque Tea Party filed for a 501(c)4 designation back in 2009 and in early December 2011 received a three-page letter from the IRS asking for additional documentation, including “all our correspondence, information on our membership, everything you could imagine,” Harbaugh said.
“It took us six weeks and hundreds of hours of work to accumulate the information,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of the information we couldn’t give them. They wanted to know whether members of the families of people in our group were politically active. How would we know that?”
Thinking the information the IRS wanted went too far, the Albuquerque Tea Party in early 2012 joined 26 other conservative groups across the country in getting legal representation from the American Center for Law and Justice, charging the IRS was violating the First Amendment and calling for information outside its scope of legitimate inquiry.
The legal team has been demanding the IRS resolve the matter as quickly as possible but the Albuquerque Tea Party is still not registered as a 501(c)4.
Correction 5/16: The original version of this story reported that a lawsuit had been filed on behalf of the Albuquerque Tea Party and the 26 other conservative groups. Harbaugh says that the groups are considering filing a lawsuit but have not done so yet.
“Yes, I feel I have someone looking over our shoulders every minute,” Harbaugh said.
In her conference call with reporters last Friday, Lerner said the IRS scrutiny was “absolutely inappropriate” but insisted IRS officials “didn’t do it because of any political bias.”
But on Monday, a draft IRS inspector general report obtained by ABC News showed that the targeting of conservatives started earlier than Lerner indicated and was more extensive than acknowledged.
The report indicates the IRS began focusing on “Tea Party or similar organizations” in March 2010. During this first phase, 10 tea party cases were identified. By April 2010, 18 tea party organizations were targeted, including three that had been approved for tax-exempt status.
By June 2011, the unit had flagged more than 100 tea party-related applications and the criteria used to scrutinize organizations had grown considerably, flagging not just “tea party” or “patriot” in group names, but also groups that were working on issues like “government debt,” “taxes” and even organizations making statements that “criticize how the country is being run” and education of the public by advocacy/lobbying to “make America a better place to live.”
President Obama talked to reporters on Monday about the allegations.
“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous. And there’s no place for it,” Obama told reporters.
“And they have to be held fully accountable. Because the IRS, as an independent agency, requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re … applying the laws in a nonpartisan way.”
But Harbaugh isn’t buying it.
“It makes no sense why this wasn’t stopped two years ago,” Harbaugh said. “When they’re targeting organizations like the tea party, patriot groups and 9/12 groups (associated with radio talk show host Glenn Beck) in applications and you tell me that’s not political? You tell me that’s not partisan?”
New Mexico Watchdog left messages with the leadership of a number of other New Mexico tea party organizations to see if they had any contact with the IRS. Thus far, we’ve had no response.
Harbaugh said the roughly 20 other New Mexico tea party chapters are meeting in Albuquerque on June 29 for a statewide conference in which the IRS controversy will be a primary topic.
Update: Bruce Higgins of the 9/12 Project of San Juan County said his organization also wrangled with the IRS in its attempt to receive 501(c)4 status.
Higgins said the IRS eventually granted the group non-profit status but that the process took three and a half years.
“I wouldn’t say we were harassed,” Higgins said but went on to say the IRS flooded the group with paperwork and gave them messages and sent letters that were often contradictory.
Higgins described the process as “a joke. It really is … It was typical, big, stupid government.”
Update 5/14: The chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico released a statement Tuesday morning, calling for a congressional investigation. “This is unacceptable, and to see it affecting conservative groups across our nation—and especially in our home state—is infuriating,” John Billingsley said in part. “I am concerned with the severity of this infringement, as all Americans should be concerned. If this type of targeting witch hunt can be used against the Tea Party, it can be used against multiple entities and groups. This issue absolutely must be resolved.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
Government entities be warned: Fail to submit an audit to the state and say good-bye to some of that state money you want.
In Part 1 of our investigation into agencies, school districts, communities and other entities that haven’t turned in proper audits of taxpayer dollars they’ve received or spent, New Mexico Watchdog focused on the alarming number that have skipped their annual audits.
Just this year, of more than 500 entities who are legally obligated to turn in their paperwork to the State Auditors Office, some 59 have not, including cities as large as Gallup and Española.
Now in Part 2, Watchdog looks into a new plan designed to get delinquent organizations get in line:
Earlier this month, Gov. Susana Martinez issued an executive order mandating that if any governmental entity isn’t up to date on its audits, it won’t get any capital outlay goodies from the state, effective immediately.
“When you receive millions of dollars of taxpayer money, it’s the responsibility of the state to establish basic financial controls and require audits that demonstrate an entity’s ability to be a good steward of that money,” Gov. Martinez said in a statement.
“It’s a very important step that the governor ordered an executive order to say, ‘I’m no longer going to allow DFA (the Department of Finance and Administration) to just openly reward with capital outlay entities that haven’t submitted their audit,” State Auditor Hector Balderas told New Mexico Watchdog.
Balderas may be a Democrat and Martinez may be a Republican but they’re both on the same page when it comes to getting entities to adhere to the state’s 1978 Audit Act to help make sure money isn’t getting wasted or stolen.
“I think it sends a message to people who are in charge of these operations that they need to take more responsibility or else they aren’t going to be rewarded,” Balderas said.
New Mexico Watchdog has obtained a list from the DFA, which has cross-referenced the capital outlay projects approved in this past legislative session with entities that haven’t turned in their required audits. The result?
Some 35 organizations that will not receive money the Legislature and the governor’s office initially OK’d for them until they get their finances straightened out.
Included on the list:
*$400,000 for Española ($300,000 to remodel city hall and the jail and $100,000 in improvements to the Veteran’s Memorial Wall)
*$300,000 for streets and drainage improvements in Sunland Park
*$220,000 for gas pipelines to the general hospital in Roosevelt County
*$200,000 in improvements to the water system in the town of Cuba
*$155,000 for activity buses for the Las Vegas, New Mexico, city public school district
*More than $145,000 to help seniors in Gallup
*$40,000 for an ambulance for the town of Santa Rosa
The State Auditor’s Office has been battling late audits for years with a staff of 30 and a budget of $3 million to enforce what Balderas calls “a culture of a lack of accountability.”
There may be 59 entities out of compliance now but Balderas says in recent years the number has been as high as 90, with an estimated $1 billion in money not properly accounted for.
Without timely audits, the possibility of embezzlement or financial mischief almost always follows.
“I’m like the truancy officer telling the parents about the bad grades and missed days,” Balderas said. “But the juvenile delinquent is still missing school and the fact that the kid is not in school probably indicates there are other problems that haven’t even been discovered yet.”
Now that the executive order has been issued, DFA — the agency that ultimately cuts the checks to entities receiving capital outlay — hopes the scofflaws will get back in compliance.
“This is going to give them more incentives to get those (audits) done,” said Ryan Gleason, the department’s Local Government Division Director, adding that overdue audits will be looked at carefully once they come in.
“Just because they’ve got their audit done, we want to make sure they’ve got good financial controls in place as well,” Gleason said. “Yes, we take this executive order very seriously … We have high hopes that this will help a number of communities to get into compliance.”
Balderas wanted to emphasize that many entities have leaders who are making an effort to get their financial houses in order but adds that “even when they’re not trying to play fast and loose and they’re just trying to do the right thing, I think they’re very at risk for some employee to steal them blind.”
In the meantime, here’s the list from DFA of capital outlay projects that are in jeopardy until the entities with missing audits get their paperwork completed:
(NOTE: Since the list was compiled, Roswell has turned in its audit and is expected to receive its capital outlay dollars.)
Contact Rob Nikolewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
Gov. Susana Martinez has voiced her support for Sen. Tom Udall, who has introduced legislation challenging the Obama administration’s decision to use sequestration to seize 5 percent of mineral and energy royalties from states..
“The federal government should never have cut these royalty payments to begin with, as they don’t represent the traditional type of programmatic cuts that the sequester was seemingly designed to enforce,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell wrote in an e-mail to New Mexico Watchdog.
In late March, the Obama administration through the Department of the Interior contacted 35 states that have federal leases on state lands, informing them that due to sequestration 5 percent of their royalties from mineral and energy extraction (such as coal, oil and natural gas) would be forfeited.
The two states hardest hit are Wyoming (which will lose $53 million) and New Mexico (which would lose $26 million).
“The agreement for mineral development needs to be honored,” Udall said by phone Thursday (May 9) from his Capitol Hill office. “These aren’t federal funds. These revenues should not be subject to sequestration.”
Gov. Martinez and officials in her administration have also complained and late Thursday afternoon, her spokesman said she “fully supports” Udall’s bill, adding she also “supports blocking the 2 percent federal collection fee, which costs New Mexico nearly $10 million for a service that costs the federal government a fraction of that.”
In an e-mail to New Mexico Watchdog, Heinrich wrote, “I disagree with DOI’s decision to sequester revenue under the Mineral Leasing Act and am pursuing an approach to fixing the problem that may not require legislation.”
Heinrich didn’t elaborate on what kind of solution he has in mind.
In 2012, New Mexico received about $488 million in mineral and energy extraction royalties from the Mineral Leasing Act.
Sen. Tom Udall has been a loyal supporter of President Obama, but the New Mexico Democrat is at odds over a move to take $26 million from the state in mineral and energy royalties and now he’s taking his case to the Senate itself.
Udall on Thursday (May 9) will introduce the State Mineral Revenue Protection Act, which would prohibit the federal government from seizing royalties as part of sequestration cuts, New Mexico Watchdog has learned. Update 1:15 p.m.: Udall’s office said the Senate is done with its work for the week so the bill is expected to be formally introduced early next week.
“The agreement for mineral development needs to be honored,” Udall said by phone from his Capitol Hill office. “These aren’t federal funds. These revenues should not be subject to sequestration.”
In late March, working through the U.S. Department of the Interior, the administration cut mineral and energy payments to 35 states by 5 percent. New Mexico stands to lose nearly $26 million— second only to Wyoming, which could lose $53 million for mineral and energy rights on state lands with federal leases.
Administration officials have insisted they’ve been forced to make the cuts, as the Budget Control Act calls for mandated reductions in spending.
“Every department (in the federal government) is subjected to that,” Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw told New Mexico Watchdog in March. “There’s no real flexibility.”
“These dollars should be off-limits to federal meddling,” Udall said. “I don’t think they should be allowed to use sequestration for this. These are state dollars.”
Earlier this week, Udall addressed the secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, during a Capitol Hill hearing, saying, “I hope it will get a fresh look from you.”
“We’ve got good bi-partisan support,” Udall said. “That’s how you get things done around here.”
Udall is usually in sync with Obama’s policy goals, but this legislation challenges the administration.
“We just have a disagreement on this one,” Udall said. “They have to implement the sequestration law. I don’t think they’re carrying it out properly.”
The bill will be formally introduced Thursday. Udall hopes it will get sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which New Mexico’s other senator — Democrat Martin Heinrich — serves.
New Mexico was informed of the mineral and energy sequestration cuts in a letter to the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department on March 22 ,and the Department of Finance and Administration has been grappling with — and complaining about — the reductions, which start with a $5.2 million hit the feds want by July.
“It hasn’t been a transparent process,” DFA Secretary Tom Clifford said at the time. “We need to have a discussion with them about how important these revenues are to states like New Mexico.”
Here’s video of Udall questioning the new secretary at Interior at the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. The mineral royalties/sequestration issue comes up about the three-minute mark:
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
By law, every organization in New Mexico that receives or spends public funds has to turn in an audit each year.
“If a government is going to spend taxpayer money they should be able to account and submit a full accounting of those activities every year,” State Auditor Hector Balderas said. “It’s a fundamental check and balance the taxpayer deserves.”
“It’s a big deal,” Balderas said.
According to the State Auditor, there are 59 entities labeled as “at risk” because they are behind schedule for turning in their annual audits.
Some of the entities are small — such as the village of Maxwell, a ranching community up in Colfax County with a population of just 247. The public officials there haven’t filed an audit since Fiscal Year 2007 — some six years ago.
But some of them are large — such as the city of Española, that has a population well over 10,000. The city government hasn’t filed a completed audit since FY2009.
Then there’s Gallup, a city of more than 21,000 with a general fund of about $30 million, that hasn’t turned in an audit since FY2011.
The list includes 30 municipalities, five state agencies and three counties that have gone at least one year without filing a audit of what they’ve done with the taxpayer money they’ve spent or received.
Why haven’t they turned in their audits?
We’d like to know but phone calls from New Mexico Watchdog to the financial officials and political leaders in Española, Gallup and Sunland Park (non-compliant for the last two years) went unreturned.
Balderas says his office gets a lot of excuses, chief among them: entities say they can’t find an independent auditor to go through their records or they complain about the cost involved. Balderas says “some of those complaints are valid” and his office tries to work with the entities that are behind schedule, similar to the way a bank or a credit agency works with a customer who falls behind on their payments.
But there could be other issues at work.
“There is a culture of a lack of accountability,” Balderas said. “They really think I’m bugging them” when his office contacts the scofflaws.
Some years, as many as 90 entities receiving or spending taxpayer dollars have not filed their required audits — which, Balderas estimates, comes to about $1 billion.
There have also been cases where entities avoided turning in audits to hide embezzlement.
In 2009, a scandal broke out in the Jemez Mountains Schools where more than $3.3 million was stolen. The school district had been two years behind on its audits.
“I want to be very clear,” Balderas said. “At a lot of these governments, you have very well-intentioned political leaders at the helm. But sometimes they’re not trained in their responsibilities … I had very well-intentioned leaders in the Jemez Mountain case who didn’t even know how to read a financial statement or a budget.”
But the law is the law and any organization that receives New Mexico taxpayer dollars must account for its finances — just as every taxpayer has to turn in an income tax return to the Internal Revenue Service and the state.
Balderas said there are instances “where criminally speaking, public officials have purposely either lied to auditors, delayed the audit process, purposely impeded in hiring an auditor specifically for the purpose of not being discovered.”
Update: The Rio San Jose Flood Control District near Grants has the longest streak: It hasn’t filed a report with the State Auditors Office since FY2004.
In an e-mail to New Mexico Watchdog, Cynthia Spidle of the RSJFCD wrote:
“The Rio San Jose Flood Control District is not unwilling to have an audit done on its finances. The last time we had an audit, we had no major findings according to the OSA. The auditor that we hired had to wait nine months to receive his final payment, which can be hard on a small audit firm. We send out RFPs every year, to auditors on the OSA’s list. We are lucky if we get one response back. Usually the firm wants a lot of money for a very small audit, due to regulations from the OSA’s Office. At present we are waiting for a reply from the State Auditor’s Office on the auditor that we have recommended to complete the audits.”
In Part 2 of our investigation we’ll take a look at what can be done to get the scofflaws to turn in their audits.
Here’s the list of the 59 entities that are late:
People who follow New Mexico politics remember Adam Kokesh as a 2010 Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Santa Fe, who ran a slightly off-beat campaign highlighting his libertarian ideals before losing in the primary to Tom Mullins of Farmington.
Kokesh has always had a lot of provocateur in him — and since he left New Mexico and moved to the Washington D.C. area he’s been pushing the edge and getting farther out on the fringe by taking part in a number of protests and saying controversial things.
Last year he alienated the Ron Paul campaign to such a degree that it called him “a deeply troubled individual.”
Now Kokesh is organizing a demonstration that’s generating headlines across the country:
A pro-gun march on the Fourth of July in which protesters will go from Arlington National Cemetery to Washington D.C. while carrying loaded rifles as an act of civil disobedience against the District of Columbia, which has strong gun control laws on its books.
This is an act of civil disobedience, not a permitted event. We will march with rifles loaded & slung across our backs to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated & cower in submission to tyranny. We are marching to mark the high water mark of government & to turn the tide. This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent. Should we meet physical resistance, we will peacefully turn back, having shown that free people are not welcome in Washington, & returning with the resolve that the politicians, bureaucrats, & enforcers of the federal government will not be welcome in the land of the free.
Saying he’ll go through with the march if he can bring in 10,000 demonstrators, Kokesh has already generated plenty of media attention (exactly what he wanted) from liberal websites and blogs such as Huffington Post and Think Progress, which has generated plenty of outrage from their readers.
Kokesh appeared earlier this week on the radio show of conspiracy maven Alex Jones who has a mixed opinion about the demonstration, writing on his InfoWars website that “despite the fact that I question the sanity of this event — and I think it might easily be turned into a government-run false flag event to make gun owners look like psychos — I still have to hand it to Kokesh for having the balls to even attempt such a show of civil disobedience.”
Kokesh says 1,000 people have RSVP’d for the march.