Governor’s office budget should be accurate

Budgets should be based on reality. And the New Mexico Governor’s Office should be no exception.

The budget and staffing for the office of Gov. Susana Martinez, however, raise questions about how accurately staffers are allocated, reported or paid for. An Albuquerque Journal UpFront column by Thom Cole reported inconsistencies in the way some staffers are listed as working in the Governor’s Office, but paid for by other agencies.

Martinez campaigned on a theme of trimming what she considered a bloated Bill Richardson administration, and she pledged her administration would be leaner and more transparent.

She’s done that.

When she took office she cut $500,000 from its $3.8 million budget. Last year, her office spent $3 million, for what would appear to be a savings of about $800,000.

But records show some staffers apparently working in her office but carried on other payrolls. As of mid-January, nine people’s salaries and benefits, totaling about $870,000, were covered that way. So in reality the cost could be about the same as when Martinez took office — assuming, of course, that Richardson wasn’t also doing some of this.

Telephone directories for the Governor’s Office show most of those nine staffers had been listed as working there for about a year. A Jan. 17 directory lists phone extensions for 34 people, excluding the governor, but only 25 were on her office payroll. Before the recession, the Richardson administration had more than 40 budgeted jobs in his office.

Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, the LFC’s vice chairman, take issue with the practice. Varela, a Santa Fe Democrat, says employees should be working for the agencies that pay them. Smith, a Democrat from Deming, says the practice “certainly lacks transparency.”

Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said the employees “serve a variety of roles for the state and oftentimes work in the Governor’s Office so they can conduct their work more efficiently or coordinate issues across a variety of agencies.”

This administration runs “leaner” in general. But the Governor’s Office budget should accurately reflect the salaries of the people working there, not smoke and mirrors that allow for good sound bites.

— Albuquerque Journal