Gov. Susana Martinez named a former cabinet member to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, a panel that has come under scrutiny in recent months after other Martinez appointees spearheaded the takeover the UNM Health Sciences Center. Tom Clifford recently retired as cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. Clifford worked for 20 years in state government, through multiple gubernatorial administrations. Martinez did not issue a statement on the appointment as she typically does for high-profile appointments. Her office did provide background for Clifford, mentioning his time as the policy and research director for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department and his ten years working for the federal government.
The New Mexico Legislature has been diverting money from a public election fund for years, contrary to the wording of the law that established the fund. Some have blamed the budget situation for the recent necessity for an emergency grant to replenish the fund, but the situation dates back years. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Brad Winter sent letters to candidates who opted for public financing to inform them that their public financing would be reduced, citing the “current economic climate” and a negative budget. New Mexico’s limited public finance law—it only applies to Public Regulation Commission and judicial candidates—allows for a reduction in disbursements if there is a shortfall. While the economy may have been to blame for a negative overall budget, a closer look revealed that the New Mexico legislature used funds designated for public financing to pad general election funds—and Gov. Susana Martinez approved this.
A sudden overhaul in governance of the state’s largest public medical institution has left several people questioning the motivations behind the changes and its aftermath. One such skeptic is Mel Eaves, a now-former community member of the board of directors that made recommendations on the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. HSC operates the university’s medical school, nursing school, two hospitals and the cancer center. This piece also appears in the March 23 edition of the ABQ Free Press. To Eaves, the motivation for the overhaul stems from other entities wanting a piece of HSC’s $220 million sitting in reserves, earmarked in part for the construction of a new hospital to replace the campus’s current adult hospital, which was built in the 1950s.
Revenue projections continue to fall thanks to oil prices remaining lower than previous projections, meaning that there could be some tough decisions in the upcoming legislative session. The new projections show that legislators will have $232 million in new funds for the upcoming legislative session, which is down by $61 million from the previous projections. The projections are for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and came at a Legislative Finance Committee meeting on Monday. Even with the reduced amount, Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, was skeptical of the projection. “We hope the revenues materialize, but it’s going to be extremely painful if they don’t,” Smith said.
Once again, New Mexico’s financials are too poor to merit a comment from an independent auditor. For the second year in a row, the state received a “disclaimer of opinion” on its most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which is supposed to give the most accurate picture of New Mexico’s financial condition. That’s because the state can’t account for at least $100 million of its own money, though the State Auditor’s Office says that the estimate of unaccounted-for money may be “substantially higher.”
New Mexico is overestimating money held in its savings account, or reserves. Reserves are different than the money used for the state’s annual budgets and act as a backup fund during bad economic times. For nearly a decade, New Mexico hasn’t been able to properly perform this act of balancing its own checkbook.
On Tuesday the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that New Mexico’s State Investment Council voted to take away decision-making power from a controversial sub-committee. According to the paper, the council’s move was in response to issues raised by an open government advocacy group and a group that represents print media. The State Investment Council moved Tuesday to strip its three-member litigation committee of decision-making authority, a move that came in response to concerns raised in April by the Foundation for Open Government, a nonprofit that lobbies for transparency in public institutions, and the New Mexico Press Association, which represents the interests of print media outlets in the state. The SIC, which is tasked with managing state investments, is made up of Gov. Susana Martinez, State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn, Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford and seven other public members who were appointed by the Legislature and Martinez. The litigation committee is made up of Martinez and two of the appointed public members.