Gov. Susana Martinez isn’t properly managing the account she used to pay for her infamous holiday pizza party last year, according to an independent audit released this month. The finding stems from the governor’s contingency fund, which the state Legislature grants roughly $70,000 each year to for “purposes connected with obligations of the office,” according to state law. That’s been interpreted by past governors and Martinez as entertainment expenses for hosting officials and staff. Specifically, Martinez’s office is supposed to revert any unspent money remaining in her contingency account by the end of a fiscal year to the state’s general fund, according to the audit. Instead, her office kept leftover money into that account.
Two more top-level employees at the state Public Education Department recently left their jobs, taking the number to at least five since the beginning of the year. Terese Vigil, who headed the PED’s human resources bureau, left the department in mid-February. Aimee Barabe, director of Strategic Outreach for the department, left around the same time period. Vigil and Barabe’s exits make at least five resignations from top-level PED staffers since the end of January. The three others were Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program Leighann Lenti, Chief Information Officer Michael Archibeque and National Assessment of Educational Progress and Internal Assessments State Coordinator Stephanie Gardner.
Stressing priorities and the state’s shaky energy revenue source, Gov. Susana Martinez proposed a budget with a $228 million increase in recurring state spending. That comes out to a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year’s budget. At a press conference in a downtown Albuquerque building that houses the state Corrections Department, Martinez said her proposed budget emphasizes “three things above all others”— education, public safety and jobs. “Keeping New Mexicans safe, reforming and improving public education, and creating jobs by diversifying our economy and helping small businesses grow,” she said. The proposal comes even as legislators warn about the effects of low oil prices that show no sign of increasing.
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.