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A Broken Legislative Process

Last week I received an email and a phone call from a reader wanting to discuss my post regarding the government’s case in the Metropolitan Courthouse Scandal. Specifically, the reader was troubled by this:

Speaking of unnamed folks in the legislature:

During the 2003 legislative session, Defendant Aragon told a legislative staff member to redirect funds that had been allocated in 1999 to two other projects to the Metropolitan Courthouse for use as additional funding on that project. Defendant Aragon’s statements, which caused the redirection of the funds, made additional funds accessible to the members of the conspiracy related to the building of the Metropolitan Courthouse.

Kind of makes you wonder who is this unnamed “legislative staff member” who aided and abetted in defrauding the taxpayers? The 2003 legislative session wasn’t that long ago. Is this person still working in the legislature? Are they now assisting other politicians in making “additional funds accessible” for other building conspiracies?

Unfortunately, I was in Washington D.C. with my family last week, so I didn’t get to return the phone call for a frank discussion until yesterday. During which time, the reader made a very good point that is worth repeating here. Namely, that “aided and abetted in defrauding taxpayers” may be an unfair way to portray the act of the legislative staff member.

The way this process was explained to me, a legislator (or his/her staff member) asks the legislative staff to draft a change for a reauthorization or insertion of capital outlay into the capital outlay bill. This is done, and it is then voted on by the Legislator. So, charging the legislative staff member with “aiding and abetting ” would make as much sense as charging the typist who typed up the change or the courier who delivered the new bill.

So, this brings us back to who has responsibility? Well, the simple answer is that the legislators who voted to approve the 340 page bill and the Governor who signed the bill without questioning the misappropriation of funds share the responsibility.

A quick search of the 2003 Capital Outlay bill, H.B. 200 reveals that “Metropolitan” shows up six times within two pages on the 340 page document. First, money that had previously been appropriated to Indian Pueblo Cultural Center were appropriated to the Metropolitan Courthouse.

But, here is the really disturbing part:

Section 121. MOUNTAIN VIEW ELEMENTARY SCHOOL–CHANGE PURPOSE AND EXTEND EXPENDITURE PERIOD FOR THE METROPOLITAN COURTHOUSE IN BERNALILLO COUNTY.–The balance of proceeds from the sale of severance tax bonds appropriated to the state department of public education pursuant to Subsection T of Section 19 of Chapter 2 of Laws 1999 (1st S.S.) for educational technology at Mountain View elementary school in Albuquerque in Bernalillo county shall not be expended for the original purpose but is reauthorized and appropriated to the Bernalillo county metropolitan court for the purpose of furnishing and equipping the new metropolitan courthouse in Bernalillo county.

That’s right, they took money for our kids to line their pockets. And, the kicker to all of this comes from this paragraph taken from Governor Bill Richardson’s 2003 State of the State to kickoff the Legisaltive Session:

We cannot achieve our lofty economic and educational goals without first meeting our most basic needs. When I proposed my budget, I set out three basic goals: Better schools, better jobs and more money in the pockets of New Mexicans.

Well, I guess he succeeded in putting more money in the pockets of some New Mexicans.