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Siphoning off Money

I’ve noted before in response to some comments that I don’t believe that Lt. Governor Diane Denish is corrupt. However, I do believe that she made a conscious decision during her seven years at Governor Richardson’s side to just go along to get along. She opted to look the other way as corruption flourished and taxpayer funds were misappropriated and mismanaged.

Nothing demonstrates this more than the facts that Jim Scarantino has uncovered by doing a little digging around and then a little more digging around. Now, defenders of Mrs. Denish can call Scarantino names and try to dismiss him as part of some GOP ploy, but it doesn’t change the facts. Facts, I think are captured perfectly by Heather Wilson in a recent note on Facebook:

“I served in Congress when we passed the economic stimulus bill in 2003. The funds we sent to states were to cover essential government services and unfunded federal mandates during a recession. Today’s new revelations suggest that Lieutenant Governor Denish diverted those funds to pay contract staff for activities related to Senator John Kerry’s Presidential campaign.

This is obviously inappropriate. It’s time for the state legislature, federal and state auditors to decide they won’t tolerate this kind of wasteful self-dealing in Santa Fe anymore and initiate an audit. It’s pretty clear Mrs. Denish has a lot of explaining to do.”

Now, fellow blogger Heath Haussaman, for whom I have the utmost respect, has noted that he’s at a loss as to what’s the big deal:

There’s been much ado this week following a report from a new Web site about the way Lt. Gov. Diane Denish spent federal stimulus funds she was given in 2003 by Gov. Bill Richardson.

I’ve been investigating the situation for two days and, frankly, I can’t figure out what all the fuss is about.

And, if you’re focused on the amount of dollars spent five years ago to a contract employee to do PR on some questionable activities, he’s right. I mean in a state where it seems not a month goes by without a news story breaking about millions of taxpayer dollars being stolen, who has time to pay attention much less care to what’s got to be less than $1,000 of misspent money?

Right? Wrong.

See the problem is not whether or not Lt. Governor Denish took $500 from one account when she should of taken from another. Sure, that’s wrong, and she blew it on day one by not taking ownership for the mistake and opting instead to go after the messenger. But, that’s not the bigger issue here.

The bigger issue is the stated purpose of the $225,000 gift handed from Governor Richardson to the Lt. Governor. It was part of a stimulus package in 2003 “to cover essential government services and unfunded federal mandates during a recession.

Hmm, kinda like the situation we find ourselves in now.

I don’t see the Lt. Governor getting run out on a rail for what she did (then again she wouldn’t get very far on the rail). However, I DO think she failed a crucial test. No matter how you slice it, public relations, polling and chauffeuring are not essential government services. For a former Chairman of the Democratic Party, it’s understandable how they may seem like essential political services, but they are not by any measure essential government services.

Now, consider the fact that the stimulus money flowing into New Mexico in 2003 was chump change compared to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Here are some 2003 numbers in case you don’t have them handy:

The federal government’s May 2003 stimulus package included $20 billion in fiscal relief for the states. $10 billion was provided through a temporary 15-month increase of 2.95% in each state’s Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP). The other $10 billion was in the form of revenue sharing, i.e., a “no strings attached” block grant to the states based on population. Both of these mechanisms allowed federal fiscal relief to flow to the states very quickly without the need for the establishment of any new programs or the submission and approval of plans for using the money.

That’s right the entire redistribution was $20 billion as opposed to $787 billion now being handed out to states. According to former governor Toney Anaya, this round of stimulus spending is supposed to bring $1.4 billion to New Mexico alone.

And, therein lies what all the fuss is about….

The situation today is by all accounts drastically more dire than it was six years ago. In fact, it is quite possible that this is the worse recession since the Great Depression. Even if those pushing for tax increases get their way, non-essential government services are going to have to be cut.

Lt Governor Diane Denish wants us to elect her to be our next Governor during these difficult times. Yet, when she had a chance once before to use stimulus funds to cover essential government services, she chose instead to waste the funds on PR contracts, chauffeurs and polling.

With schools failing and unemployment rising, can we really afford four more years of leadership committed to siphoning off money from essential government services to fund political fancies?