State auditor: Billions on the sidelines in state funds

Most of money assigned for a purpose or project, but hasn't been spent

SANTA FE (KRQE) – For the second year, state auditor Tim Keller has released a report calling attention to billions of dollars sitting in state funds unspent.

“There’s a lot of different reasons why the money is sitting around idle but at the end of the day we as a state have not prioritized saying, ‘Hey! Let’s put every dollar to work for New Mexico,” said Keller.

The report identifies money sitting in capital outlay, revolving and executive funds that has not been spent. Much of the money that has been appropriated has been assigned for projects or purposes, but hasn’t actually been spent. The vast majority of that money couldn’t be brought back in to help solve the state budget crisis.

“Most of these dollars have already been designated for a purpose to help our state, but the audit results do not inspire confidence that the funds are actually being spent in a timely and efficient manner,” Keller said. “It may be complex for our government to get the money out into the economy, but not doing so leaves community needs unmet.”

Senate Democrats used the report to sharply criticize Governor Susana Martinez’s administration as not doing enough to get the money out to help the struggling state economy.

“The governor’s dropped the ball and the people of our state are paying the price dearly,” said Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque. “We want that money to go to work today, absolutely today.”

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, disputed that characterization, agreeing that there is a problem but says it’s a bureaucratic problem, not the governor’s fault.

“This is a huge problem, statewide capital outlay is a mess,” said Harper. “There is a bureaucratic mess of red tape that these have to go through, several steps these projects have to go through that can take 18 months.”

“We want this money to be spent more than anyone but the process right now prevents it from going into the ground as fast as it needs to.”

While the governor’s office did not comment on the report Friday, House Republicans sent out a news release calling the auditor’s report “laughable”.

Keller says, bottom line, the governor and lawmakers should do more to move the money into the economy.

“This is a way, an opportunity for us to actually stimulate our economy,” said Keller. “Just by getting a small percentage out the door faster so I think folks are somewhat optimistic saying you know what we might be able to do some of this even though times are tight budget wise.”

There are proposals for capital outlay reform aimed at spending some of the money mentioned in the auditor’s report more efficiently, but time is running out in the session for those bills to get to the governor’s desk.

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