May 17, 2016

Audit finds regular budget shortfalls at Secretary of State’s office

The Secretary of State’s office has chronic under budgeting resulting in a regular need for emergency loans, grants and special appropriations just to fulfill one of the office’s key functions: running elections.

VoteThat’s the news from an audit recently released by State Auditor Tim Keller.

“Repeatedly using emergency funding mechanisms for routine, regularly scheduled elections runs against commonsense budgeting principles,” Keller said in a statement. “We know we are going to have elections, we know when we’re going to have them, and we know generally how much they cost. There is no need to use band aids [sic] year after year.”

Secretary of State Brad Winter told NM Political Report while he can’t speak to the past, he believes the problem stems under-funding, not under-budgeting.

In other words, the Secretary of State sought enough money, at least in 2016, but received less than they wished through the budget process.

He said the department sought $6.13 million for the election fund this year and received $4.95 million. This included a special appropriation of $950,000.

“I’m not complaining, because it was a very, very tough budget year,” Winter said, acknowledging the cuts that many state departments and agencies faced.

He said repeatedly that his department is “focused on the elections.”

He also noted that past budgets took money out of the election fund. For fiscal year 2016, the state took $1.2 million and sought to do so again in 2017; instead they only took $750,000.

The election fund is one of three funds the Secretary of State’s office relies on, and it goes towards—as the name suggests—the running of elections.

The audit found that in the past decade, the Secretary of State’s office received $24,793,877 in emergency loans or special appropriations from the Board of Finance to fill budget deficits. The funding comes from the state General Fund.

In a year with a presidential election, New Mexico will likely see very high voter turnout, at least compared to midterm elections, which means more strain on the Secretary of State’s office and various county clerks.